THE Wimmera Machinery Field Days has evolved over the past 57 years to become something far more all-encompassing than its name might suggest.
While machinery is still a vital part of the three-day event at Longerenong, the modern field days features everything from motocross demonstrations to fashion parades, wildlife shows, cooking classes and health and wellbeing advice.
A celebration of agriculture
The event itself is huge, but the benefits it provides for both the farming sector and the wider community are even bigger.
Field days manager Murray Wilson said the social connectedness the event offered was one of these.
"You have some farmers who catch up with mates once a year, and that's at the field days," he said.
"From a farming point of view, it's an opportunity to take a break and get off the farm, and a chance to involve your family in the field days and talk about what you're doing and what you're buying.
"For customers and clients, they might only talk to their dealers by phone or email during the year, but they get to put a face to a name at the field days."
Related: What's on at the 2019 field days
Mr Wilson said the event was a celebration of agriculture, but was no longer only aimed at those within farming.
"It's a recognition of what farming and agriculture means for this region - it's what keeps everything ticking over," he said.
"We try to make sure we have an event where the focus is agriculture, but also an event that people want to visit that's exciting and fun, and that has an education aspect to it.
"You'll get a lot of people who might see a big header in a paddock during harvest, but when they get a chance to see a $500,000 header up close or sit in the driver's seat, that's pretty impressive.
"That what the field days can do."
Wimmera Primary Care Partnership executive officer Geoff Witmitz said the field days had a direct link to health and health services - both in the connectedness it fostered and the opportunities it gave people to visit services they might not otherwise seek out.
"You have each of the region's health services present, plus a lot of services around social connection such as men's sheds and neighbourhood house networks," he said.
"The field days are also important for our organisations as a networking opportunity. It's a unique event in that way where we can all get together.
"The other thing is that you have politicians there, so we can campaign for better outcomes for our community.
"It's also great chance to get feedback at a grassroots level. It's a very important opportunity for all of us to touch base with our community."
Horsham's Wade Morrow is a field days committee member and also a long-time exhibitor with Morrow Motor Group.
He said the event's benefits and flow-on effects for a number of sectors were significant.
"From a business perspective, there's nothing else in this area where you can get such a number of people to walk past your stand and have a chat," he said.
"The field days are a not-for-profit event, but they feed a lot back into the community through various groups, sporting clubs and schools.
"The whole scenario of how it's run and where the profits go, it's a good thing for the community.
"Some people might say it's too dear to get in the gate, but there's nothing else out there as good a value for money as the field days."
Something for everyone
Field days committee president Chris Bartlett said organisers were always trying new things to ensure the event remained relevant and exciting.
"One of the reasons we're trying the twilight concept this year is because we want to target people who don't associate with agriculture at all normally - we're trying to get a different crowd," he said.
"Because there's not only agriculture out here - it's everything. It's a showcase of general interest.
"It's a real social event. Even if you come along and don't buy anything, it's more about talking to people.
"It's a great place to keep in the loop."
Businesses seize opportunities
Riverside Caravan Park co-manager Sue Jones said the park was on track to be booked out each night from March 4 to 8.
“If people are regulars they usually re-book the same accommodation for next year’s field days straight away,” she said.
“We've got 21 cabins and 40 power sites (for caravans). Two thirds of that is booked out in advance, and we get regulars to ring closer to the event so they're guaranteed their accommodation.
"It is pretty much first in, best dressed if we have group of caravans coming through at the same time. We try to let field days people get in first, but if I don't hear back from them I could pencil in the caravans. We can’t please everyone but we do our best."
Though Mrs Jones and her partner Glenn Coffey have been in Horsham for less than two years, she said they already knew some of the return visitors to the field days quite well. She said the caravan park did not put up its prices for the field days week, as they wanted people to keep coming back.
Horsham Mid City Court Motel’s Sukhjinder Singh said this year’s field days was an especially good one for his business, being so close to the 2019 Horsham Fishing Competition.
Mr Singh started running the Darlot Street motel four months ago.
“I don’t think we have ever been fully booked for so much of the week for many years,” he said. “This event in particular keeps us in business. The last two months have been very quiet. People obviously go to the coastal towns for their breaks.”
Horsham Royal Hotel publican Grant Fiedler said he had put on extra staff for the field days week.
"We do have increased bookings, and along with providing breakfasts and dinners for attendees it's really good for the pub," he said. "On a couple of the nights we'll have one extra waitress in the bistro."
Horsham Rural City mayor Mark Radford said the organisation had been encouraging tourism businesses to work together in the lead-up to the field days.
"(Earlier this month) we had a tourism advisory committee meeting," he said. "A representative with a motel said they were booked out for that week, so others suggested he encourage people to stay at Dadswells Bridge."
Cr Radford said the week presented the opportunity for businesses in the city's CBD to 'think outside the square', such as considering whether to offer more flexible hours to cater for the field days crowds.
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