Feb. 8 2017 10:00 AM

    Several factors led the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to come to an end . . . and farmers find themselves facing similar challenges.

    For the past 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has entertained families across the country. Times have changed, though, and parent company Feld Entertainment Inc. recently announced that the show will end later this year.

    Final performances for both currently touring shows will take place in the Northeast in May. The shutdown will affect 462 employees, and 85 animals will need to be relocated to new homes.

    Self-named “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the circus that entertained generations of attendees faced challenges it eventually could not overcome. An article in The Wall Street Journal cited a few of the obstacles, including rising ticket costs that made it more difficult for families to attend.

    There’s also great expense to put on such a show. Transportation costs are a huge part of that. The circus still travels by train, and transportation costs rose 40 to 60 percent over the past five years.

    Additionally, the circus must now compete with other forms of entertainment in this digital era. Even in the live entertainment realm, there are many more choices today than there were just a few decades ago.

    While the company’s owners say a combination of factors led to the move to shut down, one major influencer was the decision to discontinue featuring elephants in 2016 following years of protests from animal rights groups. The company noted a substantial drop in attendance after this.

    Do any of these challenges sound familiar? While farming and the circus have very different purposes — necessary food production versus pure entertainment — there are some striking similarities between the obstacles both industries face today.

    We don’t have to give them all the credit, but the fact that pressure from animal rights groups were at least partially to blame for the demise of a major entertainment business is concerning. On top of fluctuating prices, rising costs of production, and industry consolidation, farmers must also deal with pressure from confused consumers and animal rights activists.

    Agriculture can’t shut down — a hungry world depends on us. Farmers will, however, need to find ways to overcome these pressures to remain the greatest food-producing show on Earth.


    The next webinar is Monday, February 13, 2017, at noon CST

    “FARM in 2017"

    by Emily Yeiser Stepp, Director, FARM Animal Care; Ryan Bennett, Senior Director, Industry & Environmental Affairs; and Jamie Jonker, Vice President, Sustainability & Scientific Affairs.

    All three are with the National Milk Producers Federation

    Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) is dairy’s comprehensive quality assurance program encompassing over 98 percent of America’s milk supply. Join FARM’s Emily Yeiser Stepp, Ryan Bennett, and Jamie Jonker as they give an overview on animal care, antibiotic, and environmental stewardship.

    Register here for all webinars.


    Abby Bauer

    The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison.