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State fair 4-H competition to blend old, new qualification rules

The South Dakota State Fair kicks off in Huron on Sept. 2, 2021.

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HURON — The South Dakota State Fair is fast approaching, and the window for South Dakota 4-H competitors to make the final preparations and tweaks to their exhibits is closing.

Each year, the state fair sees qualified youth from all of the state’s 66 counties flock to Huron in early September to show the culmination of a year’s worth of grooming on their livestock or hard work on their projects.

Before the pandemic, 4-H youth were required to show their livestock or exhibit at a county fair or a county’s 4-H achievement day, and rank high among their competition to qualify for an exhibit at the state fair. However, in 2020, the state 4H office announced that it would be removing the county-level competition requirement from state fair entry requirements, in an effort to allow youths more leniency to compete.

This year’s 4-H competition will be a blend between pre-pandemic and 2020 rules for entry, as some categories of competition hold a requirement for county-level competition, while others do not.

The SDSU Extension 4-H State Fair Book outlines every aspect of 4-H competition at the state level, and provides guidance to county advisors for preparing their youths for county and state fairs.

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This 2021 book’s qualification policy says that local competition is “strongly encouraged,” in an effort to help youths receive multiple opportunities for feedback. It specifically requires county-level competition for state fair eligibility, only if county-level competition was held.

Caroline Hansen serves as the 4-H youth adviser for Davison and Hanson counties, and she said the state fair book holds some ambiguity because it was written in April, before anyone could know what pandemic-related guidelines might be in September.

No officials at the SDSU 4-H State Office were made available for comment.

Hansen said that on the local level, there were only a couple youths who were unable to compete in county achievement days, but she still appreciates that the state has dropped the requirement.

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“It really provides an opportunity for those that, last year, weren’t able to make it to the county fair, or are maybe still sick or quarantined for this year’s fair,” Hansen said. “We don’t eliminate them from the ability to compete at the state fair. That’s really important for providing the experience to the youth.”

Regardless, Hansen said that in the events that require qualification on a local level, the state office gave control to the local levels on deciding how to run the events.

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“The state didn't really give us a whole lot of strict parameters on how those have to fit,” Hansen said. “On a local level you could have a panel of judges or the leaders association could judge them. It was kind of just deciding what thing you thought was best.”

Hansen said the youths in her program have adapted to all these changes and are handling everything well, as their passion for 4-H has always remained strong.

“Every county has a unique set of youth and a unique set of challenges and opportunities and I have been so impressed with the youth in Davison and Hanson counties,” Hansen said. “They’re so incredibly passionate about it and that’s just been really encouraging as somebody who knows what the 4-H program can offer.”

Hansen anticipates that the 2022 state fair will return to normal qualification methods across all events.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE4-H
A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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