Bridging the generation gap: Seeds of agriculture’s future sown at commonwealth conference

Rebecca Dawes

SAFEGUARDING the future for agricultural shows will come under the spotlight at a conference attended by delegates from all over the world. The key to continued success is, according to Australia’s Brendan Christou and Scotland’s Rebecca Dawes, talking to each other and – above all else – involving the next generation …

Setting aside the ‘big names’ in the United Kingdom agricultural scene such as the Royal Highland, Great Yorkshire and Royal Welsh many people’s image of a traditional agricultural show is naughty gymkhana ponies, tea tents and competitions ranging from dog with the waggiest tale to best beef bull. 

Over 10,000 miles away in Brisbane, Australia, the city’s Royal Queensland Showground couldn’t be further removed from this bucolic image. It is home to a state-of-the-art events centre, top class hotel, as well as a vibrant destination dining and retail hub. The annual show, which takes place over nine days every August, attracts over 400,000 visitors and there is even a public holiday to allow people a day off work to attend. 

Brendan Christou is the Chief Executive of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA). He will be flying into Edinburgh this summer to chair a session for leaders of shows at the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC) Conference. The event, which was launched by the late Duke of Edinburgh in 1957 – who remained president for 50 years until he handed over the reins to his daughter HRH, The Princess Royal – is hosted by different countries every two years. This year’s conference will be the first for six years because of the covid pandemic. 

“It doesn’t matter how big or small an agricultural show is, they all have so much in common,” explains Brendan. 

“While I hope our experiences in Queensland can provide inspiration to others around the world, there is no doubt that I will go home with some new ideas also. This is what the conference is all about, learning from each other.” 

The key themes Brendan and the CEO session, which takes place over one and half days, will be addressing are: 

  • Relevance – connecting to ever-changing demographics and their expectations 
  • ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance responsibilities
  • Balancing tradition, charitable purpose and financial sustainability
  • AI – use of big data in events – facial, speech recognition, biometrics, mood recognition, movement analysis
  • Leadership – specifically in volunteer organisations
  • New generations of guests – customer experience expectations and changing desires
  • The future of venues

At the same time as the CEO session, a special conference for the Next Generation (NG) which includes those aged under 30 to 45 from across the globe, will take place. 

Rebecca Dawes, who has grown up on a beef and sheep farm, and now lives on a Scottish dairy farm with her husband, will be co-chairing the session with fellow NG Trustee, Breyton Milford from South Africa.  

“Wherever you are on your leadership journey, whether a CEO like Brendan or a young volunteer at your local agricultural show, the conference offers opportunities for personal development, networking and building connections, expanding knowledge and shared learning,” said Rebecca. 

“I was lucky enough to attend the conference in Canada in 2018 as a next-generation delegate and got to experience this first-hand. This in turn has helped influence how we develop the programme of speakers and sessions, which this year will focus on leadership and connections. This includes professional cattle hoof trimmer Graeme Parker, who is renowned globally as “The Hoof GP” and is followed by over 6 million people on his social media platforms.” 

The CEO and next-generation programmes will take place on Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th June, prior to the main conference. To find out more about the conference and tickets, visit

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