Congressman Panetta Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Preserve Agricultural Fairs

April 9, 2021
Press Release

Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) along with Representatives Billy Long (R-MO), Mike Levin (D-CA), and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced bipartisan legislation to help preserve agricultural fairs across the country and offset the devastating financial losses they have experienced due to COVID-19.  The Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act would provide $500 million in federal grants for agricultural fairs through state departments of agriculture.

State and county fairs are a primary source of promotion of U.S. agribusiness products and services.  Prior to the pandemic, agricultural fairs generated an average of $4.67 billion per year, supporting thousands of jobs.  March through May of 2020 alone, International Association of Fairs & Expositions members reported a loss of $22 million per month.

“Due to the pandemic, our annual fairs not only lost out on operating in many of our communities on the Central Coast, we also missed out on the sense of community provided by those very same fairs.” said Congressman Panetta.  “My bipartisan Agricultural Fairs Act would provide federal funding to assist these fairs in making up their lost revenue over this past year and help put those fairs back into our communities this coming year.  Having grown up going to many of our local fairs, my legislation is meant to secure their continued success and ensure that our fairs continue to play a part in our culture.”

“It is rare indeed if a person doesn’t have fond childhood memories of their county and state fairs.  Fairs play a vital role in U.S. agribusiness by supporting thousands of jobs and giving farmers a way to promote their products.  Our fairs have suffered very substantial, if not devastating, losses due to COVID-19.  I am proud to work with my colleagues, Congressman Jimmy Panetta, Congressman Dan Newhouse, and Congressman Mike Levin to introduce legislation that offers critical and strategic relief to a vulnerable industry in dire need of our assistance,” said Rep. Long.

“Almost every family has cherished memories of attending a fair in their community - my own family looks forward to the San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds each year - which serves as a critical economic opportunity for local businesses and agricultural producers,” said Rep. Levin. “However, many fairs have experienced devastating financial losses as a result of this pandemic.  We need to step up and help protect these fairs for future generations, and the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act will provide that much-needed lifeline.  I am proud to join Representatives Panetta, Long, and Newhouse introducing this bipartisan legislation on behalf of agricultural fairs across the country.”

“Not only do fairs give us an opportunity to come together and better understand where our food comes from, but they also serve as an economic opportunity for many of our rural communities by supporting thousands of jobs and giving farmers a way to promote their products.  Fairs in Central Washington and around the country generate billions of dollars that simply cannot be replaced or recouped without the ability to operate.  I am proud to work with my colleagues Representatives Jimmy Panetta, Billy Long, and Mike Levin to introduce legislation that provides much-needed relief grants to fairs that are unable to generate any revenue due to COVID-19.  The federal government can and must take such measures to prevent unmitigated and devastating losses to these vital sectors of local agricultural economies, which are prohibited from operating by state government mandates,” said Rep. Newhouse.

“The Monterey County Fair is one of 76 Fairgrounds in California serving more than 35 million Californians that visited fairgrounds in 2019.  Fairgrounds are often the heartbeat of their community generating over $40 million in non-profit and community benefits, and promoting a quality of life serving as gathering spots, recreation facilities, and learning centers.  In addition, Fairgrounds facilities often serve as emergency shelters, Covid-19 testing and immunization sites, and fire camps.  In 2020 during the Carmel and River Fires, the Monterey County Fair became an evacuation center for the local SPCA, taking on over 680 animals.  It was Noah’s Ark on land!  The Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act is imperative to the survival of our Fairgrounds and all of its valuable programs and services that it provides to the local community,” said Kelly Violini, CEO, Monterey County Fair and Event Center.

“Fairgrounds across the United States provide important community hubs for agricultural education, emergency support services, community charitable fundraising, and many different forms of entertainment ranging from local talent shows to major regional concerts.  Most Fairgrounds depend on self generated revenues to maintain safe operations that serve their communities.  Covid 19 operational reductions or outright shutdowns have created financial stresses that have most fairgrounds fighting to survive.  The Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act will provide financial support to keep these great community assets available to serve,” said David Kegebin, Manager, Santa Cruz County Fair.

“As we continue to struggle with COVID-19 restrictions on events and gathering, we are hopeful that the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act will help us afford to continue to adjust and operate at recommended capacities.  With safety at the forefront, we will again be able to produce valuable, educational and fun events.  With support from this Grant, we will bring agriculturalists, families and children back to local and affordable venues to learn about their community, their food and fiber.   While many people are separated from Agriculture in their everyday lives, it is the passion of every staff member and volunteer at every Fairground, to bring Agriculture education to communities in new and different ways.  Should the past year and possible future financial devastation close our Agriculture Fairgrounds, our communities will miss out on immeasurably valuable education and exposure to the basis of life, our safe and healthy food production,” said Dara Tobias, CEO San Benito County Fair, California.

“To state the obvious, it has been a very tough year for all of our fairs and the communities they serve.  As we slowly return to some semblance of normalcy, we recognize that all businesses are likely to have to adjust to significant changes and permanent new methods of operation.  Getting back to full operation and pursuing our mission as the heartbeat of the community is going to be particularly challenging for event businesses like ours that accommodate and entertain the public up close and personal with groups ranging from small intimate gatherings to large mass gatherings such as conventions, trade shows and the annual fair.  We are grateful that California, one of our member states, is represented by Congressman Panetta.  Oftentimes fairs are forgotten in times like these and Congressman Panetta’s recognition of the important role that agricultural fairgrounds play in their communities and his dedication in reintroducing legislation to deal with their unique needs is refreshing.  In this time of extraordinary need due to lost revenues through no fault of the Fair industry, the passage of the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act is a positive step in restoring a sense of normalcy and community that will bring reassurance and comfort to a large number of Americans that attend events at fairgrounds in every corner of our beautiful country,” said Sarah Cummings, President & CEO, Western Fairs Association/California Fairs Alliance.

“Less than 2 dozen agricultural fairs in the US were allowed to operate in 2020 after the pandemic was declared. With about 2,000 state and county fairs happening in normal times, this means that there was over $4.57 billion loss of economic activity across the nation and thousands of lost jobs in every corner of the country. The impact, especially to rural communities where the fair is the #1 economic engine, has been devastating. County and state fairs are agricultural fairs with the heart of their mission and purpose to educate fairgoers - understanding their food from farm to fork – and to market the agricultural products of their region. The role of agricultural fairs is even more vital today than this mission was at their founding.  The IAFE, representing over 1,000 county and state fairs in the country is especially grateful to Representatives Panetta, Long, Newhouse and Levin for their leadership in bringing this matter to the attention of Congress,” said Marla J. Calico, President and CEO, International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE).

“The Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA), and its over 2000 members would like to commend the efforts of Congressman Panetta, and others, to support the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act”, said Greg Chiecko President and CEO of the organization.  “Fairs of all shapes and sizes are an integral part of the American agricultural community and represent the heart and soul of Agricultural education and old-fashioned family-oriented entertainment.  Without the support of elected official, like Congressman Panetta, and others, the fair industry and its allied partners, like the carnival industry, will not have the resources to provide family entertainment and fund-raising opportunities for thousands of events across the country that truly define Americana as we know it.”