November 02, 2021

Article at Beef Business magazine

Agribition is ready to celebrate half a century

Jeff Gaye 

It’s taken 51 years for the Canadian Western Agribition (CWA) to get to its 50th anniversary show.

But after the disappointment of having to stand down in 2020, excitement is building for the return of the livestock show that has been compared to the Grey Cup and the World Series. 

The 2021 Agribition runs November 22 to 27.

 According to CWA president Chris Lees, it all started with “three or four or half a dozen” breeders who took to wondering why they had spent a lifetime taking cattle to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto by train. 

“They just dreamt up, ‘why are we going to this big expense to go to Toronto when the livestock industry is mostly in western Canada, and we have facilities in Regina?’  

“And that was the way it began,” Lees said. 

After a lot of phone calls and farm visits, the idea gained momentum. 

“The first year they pounded on everybody's door and said we're starting a new show, you need to come. Most breeders in those years would show cattle at all the small summer fairs. And they all thought the same thing,” Lees said. 

“That was the beginning. And it has never looked back ever since then.” 

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association played an important role from the very beginning. Former CWA president Reed Andrews remembers the early commercial cattle show and sale, and SSGA’s involvement in making it happen. 

“Saskatchewan Stock Growers were primarily the ones that took over and ran the commercial cattle show,” he said. “When I first got involved, most of the contributors were Stock Growers members.” 

Andrews was 14 when he attended the inaugural event in 1971. In the early days, the show was held outdoors. 

“They actually put some old wood rails together. I think it was the second show that people made up wood panels and then moved them by horse up to the stadium,” Andrews said.

 “They were underneath the old racetrack grandstand for a couple of years. And then eventually, in 1985, the current cattle barn was built and it was run and housed in there,” he said.

 “They were still showing in the stadium at that time, and the sale was in the stadium. And then in later years they built the sale ring and the show ring right in the end of the commercial cattle barn.” 

In addition to the commercial cattle show and sale, the SSGA has been instrumental in presenting the Agribition rodeo and developing the Agri-Ed program that takes the story of beef to elementary school students across the province. 

Lees says getting Agribition back on track is important for the morale of people in the beef industry. 

“This year we were determined if there was any way possible to do it, we would have a show,” he said. 

“We're going to follow government guidelines and city guidelines and what have you, and we want to have a safe and healthy show. But the livestock industry certainly needs a bit of a boost at the moment.  

“Our international guests that we have cultivated over the last 50 years are excited about coming here,” Lees said. “They're definitely looking at, ‘let's get moving. Let's get back to business and carry on.’”

 He said Agribition is a great time to do business, and a lot of business gets done. But the industry is widely spread out across North America, and there are few opportunities for breeders and producers to just get together. 

“The livestock industry in Canada has some of the best genetics in the world,” Lees said. “That's why our show has become a world class event and why our international trade market is as good as it is—because our genetics are really second to none.”

 “But the other part about the industry is that it is a people business. I mean, at home we all think we have a grand champion bull. And the only way to find out if he is a champion is taking the time to compete with everybody else.”

 There has been a little bit of hesitancy about attending this year, which Lees says is natural considering what everyone has been dealing with for the past 18 months. But entries are “respectable,” he said—close to previous years—and he says his phone rings off the wall.  

“That tells us that these guys are going to come one way or another,” he said.

 The summer and fall of 2020 were particularly tough on the regional shows that qualify breeders for Agribition. Almost everything in 2020 was cancelled because of the COVID pandemic. This past year was a little bit better.

 Lees says “the smaller shows leading up to Agribition are pretty much in the same position that we are. They've had to find a way to make it work for them. Every province’s rules and regulations are a little bit different, as you know. But these small feeder shows are going all across the country, right from the Maritimes.”

 “The thing about Agribition is that we have the RBC Supreme which wraps up Saturday night, and that is like the World Series,” he said. “You have your champions from all over Canada or North America, whichever cities qualify, and they come to Regina because it's the World Series.”

 “Breeders are excited. Trust me, they're really excited.”

 But Agribition is about more than purebred cattle. The week includes all kinds of displays and demonstrations, meetings and technical sessions, and more.

 “The jousters are back, Maple Leaf Rodeo is back, and we have 12 breeds of cattle showing and 11 sales,” Lees said. We have sheep and alpacas and what have you, and Party on the Dirt is back up and running.”

 An added attraction is a raffle on a fully-restored 1971 GMC Custom C1500 truck, commemorating the Agribition’s first year. Proceeds from the raffle will go to the CWA Scholarship Fund.

 Lees says Agribition is shaping up to be a great event for the livestock industry.

 “I can see the aisles full of people visiting and talking,” he said. “They're all going to say the same thing, that it's just nice to be able to stand here and have a visit.”

 Andrews says connecting people has been the great benefit of Agribition over the past half century.

 “Our family was a purebred breeder when I started, and then I started showing in the commercial cattle show in 1985. And I mean the camaraderie and the connections that people made during the commercial cattle show was unreal,” he said.

 “It's based on people and honesty. Many deals have been done just over a handshake. It's just the way the cattle industry has been for many years and your reputation goes a long way, especially in the shows and sales.”

 A producer might go from one year to the next without meeting up with someone they know from Agribition; or they might bump into each other at some point during the year and have that friendly recognition.

 “One of my favourite stories is when we would travel,” he said. “In airports, people would come up and say ‘hello Reed,’ and my family would say ‘how do you know them?’ And I'd say well, I see them at Agribition.

 “Agribition really is about people,” he said. “And people made Agribition.”