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.
Most of that livestock is raised by youth who participate in the Arizona 4-H Youth Development Program, based in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
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."
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