Fair funds help Ontario ag societies survive

Larger organizations that host many events in a year are hurting financially

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Recent OMAFRA funding for agricultural and horticultural societies will help, but larger exhibitions are having serious challenges.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) expanded the eligibility for agriculture societies’ annual grant application to help offset the financial losses brought on by COVID-19.

For 2020 nearly $1 million are available to all qualifying agricultural and horticultural societies.

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Why it matters: Agricultural societies are a back bone of rural Ontario. The large financial loss these societies are dealing with from COVID-19, if not dealt with properly, could shut down fairs across the province.

“For the ag societies the most any one fair could get is $3,000,” says Vince Brennan, manager of Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS).

In the past fairs could also receive an additional $2,000 if they had spent $8,000 in capital expenditures or improvements.

Traditionally agricultural societies could only apply for the grant if they had operated a fair for that year, but for 2020 the rules and regulations have been amended because most fairs have been cancelled across the province.

“They were freeing up those restrictions so that if they got the funds last year they would be able to get them this year even though there was (or will be) no fair,” says Brennan.

At the start of September, fairs had yet to receive the funding, Brennan says he is hopeful more information will be available in early October.

Brennan says the funding will be specifically beneficial to small agriculture societies, those with no infrastructure.

“They’re probably not going to be too bad with this. It will give them enough money to pay their insurance, a bit of hydro maybe.”

Societies that host larger fairs and have major infrastructure are getting hit the hardest by pandemic cancellations and have limited opportunity to rent buildings and grounds.

“Ancaster (fair), I think they have (700 or 800) fairs a year in different buildings so I mean that’s revenue that’s not there. Many of these fairs, these societies have staff. It hurts us all, but it’s really hitting these large fairs,” says Brennan.

The OAAS put together a detailed survey to understand what the shortfall would be for the 2020 season from its members. From the 200 agricultural societies registered with the OAAS, it learned there will be a shortfall of more than $12 million.

“In these agriculture societies it is way more than a fair. We have roughly 6,500 events happen on these fairgrounds throughout the year, not counting the fair activity. There is a lot of community stuff that goes on,” says Brennan.

About the author

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Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer is a farm reporter who lives in Cayuga, Ontario.

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