CHEFS profile: Researching Agricultural Shows – Caroline Westwood

In 2011 I joined the world of academia and started teaching on event management degrees. I am currently a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. My research is building into a PhD by publication which will focus on agricultural shows, the role and function with the farming community and the wider public. As a farmer’s daughter I am intensely passionate about agriculture and am keen to combine my work with my passion and support agricultural societies in learning much more about their attendees and exhibitors to enable improved outcomes. Prior to teaching I worked within the events industry for over 10 years, designing and delivering business events for various clients.

Penistone Agricultural Show scene

(CC BY 2.0)

Research focus – where I started from

Increasingly agricultural shows are experiencing diverse audiences, which comes with its own challenges and opportunities. Challenges surrounding COVID-19 are also impacting these events and will shape their design for some time to come. All show organisers will need to consider how their events must adapt; social distancing will be a key consideration. Whilst show organisers need to preserve the traditional elements of their shows, such as farming and livestock, it is also vital in such a competitive event environment for show organisers to have a deep understanding of the motivations and expectations of their stakeholders (in particular their attendees) that extends far beyond straightforward demographical information.

Agricultural shows as a research setting

Since 2015 I have been collecting data at various shows. This has led to publications that have examined attendee motivations and  experiences at agricultural shows, and have conceptualised agricultural shows as platforms for knowledge exchange. My most recent research, a book chapter (in print Summer 2021) focuses on ‘families of choice’ (a chosen family, not blood family) within livestock breeding and showing, highlighting the key role agricultural shows play within the ‘breeder’ families. I have also contributed content to industry publications, including a recent article in Farmers Guardian.

2020 research on livestock communities

I was able to interview seven members of the farming community earlier in the year (July 2020) all directly linked to livestock showing and breeding. These conversations were a great insight into how they value the connections made as a result of attending agricultural shows; these values were from varying perspectives of social, educational and networking opportunities. Many recall growing up showing livestock whether this be a pedigree herd or flock reaching back many generations of their family or some joining a ‘wider livestock family’ based on their love of animals and wanting to be part of showing community. What was clearly evident was their passion for the showing circuit and the sense of ‘loss’ of these opportunities to connect through the cancellation of the shows during 2020 due to the pandemic. This loss was felt both on a business level as shows were cited by several as their ‘shop window’ for interested buyers, and also on a social level, many seeing their holidays and social life diminish through the cancellation of events up and down the country. As most farming families will acknowledge, holidays that don’t have a ‘farming focus’ are few and far between; so, the show circuit, ‘beers in the stockman’s tents’ and attending stockman’s dinners up and down the country have sorely been missed by many this year. Several of those I spoke to have concerns over the future of agricultural shows and at the time of interviewing we were only partially through the worst of the pandemic. With many of those talking fondly of ‘growing up with a halter in hand,’ there is a fear that future generations may not fully experience the excitement and pride of leading their stock around a ring and equally the sense of achievement and gratitude when coming away with a winning rosette.

The future of shows

The worry is some shows may lose their livestock roots when difficult decisions over the commercial viability of the shows comes under scrutiny. This would undoubtedly impact the composition of the shows, the traditions, heritage, and the multifaceted nature of these complex and unique events. The 2021 show season currently hangs in the balance, with the rescheduling of some 2020 events skipping 2021 entirely, others now being moved from 2021 to 2022, and some planned to reduce just to livestock classes with spectators. Such a sparse event calendar poses a serious threat to traders, who rely on ten or more shows and doing their best trade with those with over 70,000 attendees. The implications of the pandemic extend well beyond the actual physical show and should not be under-estimated, as the events provide value to attendees, exhibitors, the local community, and the farming community at large. Let’s hope the traditions and heritage can be maintained and there aren’t too many permanent losses of shows from the show season calendar. However, realistically, these events will have to operate in an evolving environment, with the landscape of agricultural shows fundamentally changed forever.

My aim is for my research to inform what really happens in agricultural shows and for my findings to be usefully applied in agricultural shows.  I welcome collaborations with shows and show organisers, to ensure future research is as real and useful as it can be.

Caroline Westwood is a Senior Lecturer in the Events Subject Group of Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University. (



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