Handling a giant jigsaw puzzle

Last updated 13:12 05/02/2014
Sharon Paterson
DIANE BISHOP/Fairfax NZ
Southern Field Days secretary Sharon Paterson takes another phone call from an exhibitor.

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The South Island's largest agricultural event - the Southern Field Days - starts this week. Diane Bishop talks to new secretary Sharon Paterson about how she keeps almost 800 exhibitors happy.

Imagine fitting together the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Allocating sites for almost 800 exhibitors at the Southern Field Days is a bit like that, says field days secretary Sharon Paterson.

Two years ago, 603 exhibitors attended the event at Waimumu - but this year she has already allocated 767 exhibitor sites and last week there were still more to book.

"It's the place to be and the place to be seen at," Paterson said.

Paterson, who farms at Waikaka with her husband Laurie, has been flat out since she took on the secretary's job in August.

"I've been going at 200 miles an hour.

"But I love it - I get to work outside with the guys and do the office work - everything from paying the bills to organising sponsorship," she said.

Another paddock has been opened to accommodate the extra exhibitors and this has increased the site area to about 20 hectares.

This did not include the working demonstration area.

"We've got a lot of new exhibitors. But we've also got some businesses requesting larger sites," she said.

Paterson and several committee members spent a day on site allocation and another day marking out the sites for exhibitors.

About 680 sites were sold by mid-November, but over the past two months more exhibitors have trickled in, and Paterson's phone was still ringing hot last week.

"We'll come to a crunch point soon," she said.

A new purpose-built event centre, which was officially opened at the weekend, will house about 180 small exhibitors - everything from "sheep to socks and back- scratchers".

Another new feature is the robotic cowshed, which will feature a live-cow milking demonstration.

Most exhibitors will be in the same place, but others have requested different sites and Paterson has had to deal with a "few irate ones".

"Some people get annoyed if we can't put them where they want to go.

"And then you get some who don't want to be beside competing companies and others that do - it's a bit of a juggling act," she said.

It was also important to spread the food stalls and coffee carts around the field days.

About 33,000 people attended the field days in 2012.

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But that number is expected to grow this year, which has resulted in an extra 6000 programmes being printed.

"Last time we printed 12,000 programmes and this time we're printing 18,000."

SOUTHERN FIELD DAYS

When: February 12-14

Times: Gates open 9am

Cost: $15 per adult, children free, students need ID

- The Southland Times

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