Agricultural show societies Australia-wide will share $36 million from the federal government to support their recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown.
The money will help them continue after the pandemic and has been "wholeheartedly welcomed" by Agricultural Shows Australia.
Backed by 50,000 volunteers, more than 580 shows are estimated to contribute $1 billion to the economy annually, attracting about 6m patrons - a quarter of Australia's population.
Canberra has also allocated $100,000 towards supporting the Agricultural Shows Australia's rural ambassador program, to assist the community work show ambassadors perform in regional Australia.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said most agricultural shows expected to be cancelled for 2020 in the interest of public health and social distancing measures.
Shows create social bonds and improve mental health in parts of regional Australia where distance, drought, bushfires and now COVID-19 have caused significant hardship
"Agricultural shows are part of the fabric of regional Australia, showcasing everything positive about our communities and local industries," he said.
"They create social bonds and improve mental health in parts of regional Australia where distance, drought, bushfires and now COVID-19 have caused significant hardship and distress."
What's on offer?
The funding includes $10m in operational support for local show societies.
Shows will be able to claim up to $10,000 if their attendance last year was less than 2000, up to $15,000 if their attendance was between 2000 and 4999 and up to $70,000 if their attendance was over 5000.
About $26m will be offered in operational support for Royal Agricultural Show societies which can additionally claim for unrecoverable costs associated with preparing for the cancelled show.
Shows cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19 will be eligible and they will not have to compete for assistance.
Eligible reimbursement costs are expected to include bank fees, utilities, rates, insurance, fire alarms and equipment, cleaning supplies, telecommunications, IT system licencing costs, website costs, state/national show body affiliation fees and rent.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the Supporting Agricultural Shows program was a one-off reimbursement to show societies to deal with cash flow pressures caused by COVID-19 related cancellation of their agricultural shows.
"This funding supports not only the big Royal Shows in each capital but right down to the small country show," he said.
"We acknowledge the role shows play in connecting agriculture and regional Australia to metropolitan Australians.
"There is a real risk that if we don't help that not only could Royal Shows cease to function the way they are now, but also those small shows all of which are run by volunteers could fold."
Agricultural Societies Council of NSW president Tim Capp said the government's lifeline gave surety to country shows already cancelled or those which would have to cancel by the end of the year.
"It's fantastic news. At least the operating costs and other fixed costs will be supported by the government," he said.
Canberra's funding offer complements the Australian Government's existing $20m Regional Agricultural Show Development Grants Program.
It will be provided under the $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund, which is supporting regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Littleproud has urged State and Territory governments to also make a contribution to help agricultural shows survive the impact of COVID-19, recognising "the positive impact they have on their economies".
Planning for 2021
ASA chairman, Dr Rob Wilson from Western Australia, said the federal funding was much-needed and would ensure agricultural and royal shows continued when the coronavirus emergency faded.
The funds will provide local communities and the interrelated stakeholders and businesses the confidence to ensure these Australian iconic events continue
Financial assistance meant consideration and planning could begin for agricultural shows in 2021.
"It will provide the local communities and the interrelated stakeholders and businesses the confidence to engage and participate, to ensure these Australian iconic events continue," he said.
Agricultural shows promoted, celebrated and supported regional areas and were the most effective events to educate about agriculture and food production.
"These iconic events provide community connections and wellbeing as well as encouraging agricultural education through competitions and benchmarking of agricultural pursuits and produce," Dr Wilson said.
When asked if any regional shows would run this year at all, NSW ASC president Mr Capp said it was still too early to tell.
"We still have shows that have not cancelled who are waiting for more surety and will make decisions based on what they are allowed to do under government advice," he said.
"Restrictions are changing from week to week, things are being relaxed in some states and then they get a break out and go back to restrictions.
"As to whether we will run any shows between now and the end of the year is anyone's guess."
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