Gary Slater

Gary Slater is manager of the Iowa State Fair. He says one of this year’s challenges will be wrangling political candidates running for the 2020 presidential nomination.

DES MOINES — For years the talk at the Iowa State Fair was about new or renovated buildings. This year it is about new traditions and events.

“It’s kind of all about ag education here at the fair,” says Iowa State Fair manager Gary Slater.

Agricultural education events have ranged from Little Hands on the Farm, celebrating its 15th anniversary, to The Way We Live award, which started a little over a decade ago, to the Farm to Fair meal that started last year. This time around officials are introducing “Have You Herd?” which will feature young people outside the sheep barn explaining why people competing in livestock shows do the things that they do.

There will also be a “Bacon Buddies” hog show aimed at allowing youth with special needs to showcase their talents.

And for those with a little rodeo in their hearts, there will be a mutton busting event where kids can compete in sheep-riding.

Of course, all of that will be happening at the same time that a couple dozen politicians are likely to be talking to the crowd and sampling various foods on sticks.

Dealing with many presidential candidates and the press that follows them is generally a good thing for the fair, Slater says. It brings national attention to the event. But it also presents logistical challenges.

“We can’t let them put the fair on hold for the political speeches,” he says.

While the record number of Democratic presidential candidates walk the grounds, a record number of participants will be taking part in the FFA livestock contests and other agricultural-related events.

And the new events should provide chances for agriculture to educate the non-agricultural public, Slater says.

The Have You Herd? event should be especially helpful in allowing more non-farmers to understand and enjoy the livestock shows, Slater says. And Bacon Buddies provides an exciting way to bring more people into those livestock competitions.

The Iowa State Fair runs Thursday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug. 18, at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. Advanced admission tickets are available online at and at participating Fareway, Hy-Vee, Hy-vee Drug, Price Chopper and Cash Saver stores. Adults (age 12 and over) are $8; children ages 6-11 are $4.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.