A report by the Governor's Advisory Committee for the County Fairs Livestock and Agricultural Promotion Fund report showed:
- The top-grossing livestock auction was Yuma County at $833,181, followed by Pinal County at $686,480 and Maricopa County at $668,136. "That's hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been in wallets and is now out in the community," said Kirk Astroth, director of the Arizona 4-H Youth Development Program.
- Pima County Fair attracted the most attendees – nearly 200,000 – with a total of $1 million in gate admissions. Yuma County was second with 99,616 attendees.
- A total of 10,471 youth participated at the fairs across Arizona, exhibiting 16,503 animals, including 6,755 head of livestock.
For a schedule of county fairs, visit the Arizona Fairs Association website at www.arizonafairs.com.
Arizona county fairs generate $4 million in livestock sales, according to the 2011-12 Governor's Advisory Committee for the County Fairs Livestock and Agricultural Promotion Fund.
More than 10,000 youth across Arizona, ages 9 to 19, raise goats, sheep, hogs, steers and other animals – then bring them to market at county fairs. In 2011-12, those livestock auctions grossed a total of $4.1 million. Statewide, county fairs also collected $2.2 million in paid attendance, according to the new report, authored in part by the UA's Kirk Astroth, director of the Arizona 4-H Youth Development Program and assistant dean of Cooperative Extension.
That's a total of $6 million generated from an investment of $1.2 million in funding from the Arizona Legislature.
Most of the youth selling livestock at the fairs participate either in 4-H or National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) programs around the state, said Astroth, who serves on the Governor's Advisory Committee for the County Fairs Livestock and Agricultural Promotion Fund.
The youth raise animals, then go out in the community to encourage friends and neighbors, families and businesses – including restaurants – to bid on them. The animals sell for well above market price. A champion steer can bring more than $6 a pound, and buyers are assured of high-quality, well-marbled meat that is locally raised.
In 2011-12, the Cochise County Fair Junior Auction had total sales of $288,690, up by $178,809 from 10 years ago – for one less animal, according to Susan Pater, the UA's Cochise County director and area extension agent. The average in price per pound in 2012 was $4.63 for steers, $5.49 for hogs, $9.27 for lambs and $10.25 for goats.
But participation in 4-H and FFA is not all about money.
"Four-H and FFA projects help youth acquire knowledge and develop life skills essential to becoming productive and contributing members of our society," Pater said. "The main purpose for obtaining a market animal is for education purposes. Any monetary gain is an additional benefit. Many of the project members use additional monies received to finance their next year's project – or put into savings for their college education."
UA student April Erlich is attending college using earnings from animals she raised in Yuma.
"I never used the money. I saved everything," she said. "It helped a lot."
Elrich is studying physiology with plans to attend medical school. She said 4-H is a family tradition. Her sisters, father, uncle, cousins have all been involved.
"It was expected," she said.
At the age of 9, Elrich's first animal was a sheep three times her size, weighing a whopping 140 pounds.
"He dragged me around the ring. He was never my pet. I knew the end goal," she said. "Some years were tougher than others – like if you had an insane vet bill."
Her younger sisters are following the same path: raising lambs until high school, then steers. One sister raised the Grand Champion last year.
"When you get the Grand, that boosts the price," she said. "You compete based on the end product. You know how to put the weight on and produce choice animals."
Mohave County did its own economic impact study in 2011, focusing not only on impact of the county fair, but also on use of the fairgrounds for 4-H and other events held there throughout the year. The total economic activity – direct, indirect and induced – was estimated to be $15.5 million, according to Gerald W. Olson, the UA's Mohave County extension agent.
More than 61,000 people attended events, spending an estimated $8.15 million. Visitors and vendors generated an estimated 8,300 room nights for Kingman-area lodging establishments. Taxes paid to Mohave County alone were estimated at $139,000.
"Four-H is one of the only youth development programs that teaches how to raise and take care of an animal – from dogs, cats and hamsters to chickens, rabbits, sheep, pigs, cattle and horses," Astroth said.
Yet 4-H isn't all about animals. Program activities range from photography, rocketry and robotics to child development, public speaking, forestry, geospatial and electricity, plus camps and connections to national and international programs.
Astroth tells young students that 4-H "is your first class at the University of Arizona."
The impact of 4-H on youth goes far beyond the ribbons won and dollars per pound of livestock sold, Astroth said. The greater impact cannot be measured by statistics – it's instilling values in the next generation, cultivating their interest in responsibility, education, business acumen and community leadership.
But on an annual basis, the economic impact on each of Arizona's 15 counties is significant, Astroth said. The governor's advisory council report demonstrates that county fairs are still bottom-line relevant in the 21st century.