The Nebraska State Fair will be pared back this year and Husker Harvest Days is canceled as organizers of both events respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economic loss to the Grand Island area could be as much as $30 million, according to the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce.
The Nebraska State Fair, which is Aug. 28- Sep. 7 in Grand Island, is now focused on 4-H and FFA events. Organizers have canceled rides and large-scale concerts. Husker Harvest Days has been canceled, but there may be a virtual component.
Farmers and patrons attend Husker Harvest Days from more than 30 states. Typically, the event brings in around 90,000 people in years when the weather is favorable. In Nebraska alone, one in four people work in agriculture, and many jobs across the state depend on farming and ranching, according to the state’s agriculture department.
As spikes in COVID-19 cases continue across the United States, organizers said they are putting their visitors’ safety first.
“I’ve heard from many in the community, while they understand and fully support the decision, they are saddened to not have the event and the millions of dollars that come along with it,” said Matt Jungmann, events director for Husker Harvest Days, which is also held in Grand Island.
“Husker Harvest Days is (the exhibitors’) chance to shake hands with their customers in person; they will miss out on that chance this year. They are looking forward to the virtual opportunity this year and then to get back to live events next summer,” he said.
Jungmann said that his team has been working on putting together a virtual event, which should be announced soon.
Jungmann said they canceled Husker Harvest Days because of the farm calendar.
“The show occurs right before farmers go to the field to harvest,” he said. “If we’d postponed, it would have put the event right in the middle of harvest, and we can’t ask them to stop their business to come to our event.”
While the Nebraska State Fair is expected to go on, its main purpose will be to cater to FFA and 4-H. The events that will take place are FFA and 4-H livestock competitions, static exhibits, 4-H and FFA contests, FFA and 4-H virtual showcases and 4-H and FFA presentations, said Bill Ogg, executive director of Nebraska State Fair. All other events have been canceled for now.
Entrance fees have also been eliminated this year due to staffing costs. In 2019, $92,917 was spent in 2019 on staffing gates, Ogg said.
Ogg said that, depending on state health guidelines, there is the potential to include more concessions, amusement rides, motor sport activities and others. The state is in Phase 3 of its COVID-19-related health directives, which prohibits carnivals and midways.While large-scale concerts have been eliminated because of safety concerns, he said that the fair will “welcome regional small-scale bands, similar to those you would see in a pub, to play.”
Measures that would be put in place should the fair expand its offerings include:
- Groups will be encouraged to maintain the recommended distance between other groups in line and throughout foot paths.
- Disinfectant wipes will be readily available to attendees to sanitize any surfaces
- Rides offered will only include those larger ones that offer proper distancing.
- Any carnival amusement that involves constant contact, like fun houses, will not be available.
The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce estimates the State Fair economic impact to Grand Island and surrounding communities to be over $22 million.
“We are heartbroken that COVID-19 is further hurting income here at our most local communities,” Ogg said.“There’s nothing more Nebraskan than helping our neighbors and we encourage people to buy local to help our friends during this difficult time.”
Cindy Johnson, president of Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, said that the loss of Husker Harvest Days and limitations put on the State Fair will have a negative impact on the local economy.
She said that Husker Harvest Days has a more than $8 million impact and that hotels are booked years in advance. Restaurants, retail establishments and other businesses that normally benefit from the influx in revenue provided by the event are also losing out.
The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau are working with numerous partners to consider alternate events, Johnson said. While these will not likely be of the same size as Husker Harvest Days, they should provide some relief to the hospitality industry.
“The Nebraska State Fair Board and staff are working diligently to provide a rewarding, safe experience for the 4-H and FFA participants who have had a goal of showing at the State Fair all year,” Johnson said.“As a representative for the business community, we know the importance of ensuring safety is paramount as communities begin the path to normalcy.”