New features, live streaming at Toronto ag fair

TORONTO — Those who fear navigating Toronto’s freeways and toll roads to get to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair can now live stream livestock shows from the fair’s Ring of Excellence.

For Tyler Murray of Luckhorn Ont., that means his friends and family can get to watch him compete from home.

Showing in the senior breeding heifer class on Nov. 4, he said that increases exposure for him and the industry.

The livestock show ring’s move to a more central location and the addition of a supersized video screen also gives spectators an unobstructed view of what’s going on in the ring.

“In past years, it was behind the scenes and not everybody knew where it was. Now it’s right in the middle,” Murray said. “Lots are coming from the city and don’t get to see this stuff.”

The show now schedules dairy and beef cattle events on different days, which reduces the risk of disease transfer, he said.

Ellen Blenkiron, a producer from Blenview Farms at Arthur, Ont., whose family shows cattle in Canada and the United States, said beef and dairy cattle attract different buyers.

“Our clients aren’t the same,” she said.

“We’re looking to sell animals and want to have as many beef producers as we can in the barn.”

She liked the improved flow from the reconfigured stalls that allows for more producer-to-producer contact and fenced trails to the show ring.

“From a public safety perspective, it’s getting rid of an accident before it happens,” said Blenkiron, relating how in the past strollers were sometimes in close proximity to cattle on the move through the venue.

“Keeping them away from the cattle trying to get to the ring makes the exhibitor experience better,” she said.

Signed and staffed “cattle crossings” let the public move across these corridors to other show areas when animals are not present.

Blenkiron said that allows young exhibitors to move their animals with fewer helpers.

Common complaints in the past have focused on too many people and too much public access, citing a U.S. show she attends that is more producer focused.

“It was easier to go to Louisville than Toronto,” said Blenkiron.

The changes bring the Royal back to its agricultural roots, she added.

“This is a good step in the right direction to make it easier for producers to get in and out,” said Blenkiron.

Peter Hohenadel, the Royal’s director of agriculture and food, said 60 percent of visitors come from the greater Toronto area, but show organizers wanted to retain a strong agricultural presence.

“We wanted to make sure agriculture is front and centre,” he said.

“We are evolving what we do to meet our new demographic, but at our core, we are all about agriculture,” he said, citing the addition of new features such as chef, craft beer and cider competitions.

The Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame gallery at the Royal has also been renovated.

The main show ring is 25 percent larger, while goat and sheep show ring sizes also increased.

He said columns obscured views and show rings were in far-flung corners, so organizers moved to better showcase large livestock.

“Whether you are an ag exhibitor or a visitor from the city of Toronto, you cannot miss this ring,” said Hohenadel.

That has translated into improved attendance by cattle exhibitors this year.

“There’s more beef exhibitors in the barn than in anyone’s memory,” he said.

In addition to hospitality suites and seating for 1,000 more spectators, live streaming is possible from anywhere in the world at the click of a button at royalfair.org.

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