Time to pass on the baton

For Mats Gabrielsson, former chairman of the Swedish federation of potato growers, life has always revolved around tubers. As a founder of the Potato & Cultivation fair in Örebro, today he is an important member of the team ahead of Elmia’s new fair, Grow – GRO Potato & Outdoor Cultivation.

“I’ve always had a dream of bringing together the potato cultivation industry into a single place. Being able to show the whole chain from information to machinery and packaging. Quite simply, from farm to fork. I had a chance to do that in Örebro, and now that Elmia is taking a major initiative with its new fair and directly targeting the entire Nordic region, it will be absolutely amazing!”

A true success
The first fair was held in 1995, when the organiser hired premises at Närkes Maskin in Ormesta. The exhibitors included the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and important control bodies in the industry.

“I wasn’t prepared for the high level of interest, from exhibitors and visitors alike. When we began planning for our second fair in 1998, we quickly filled the same premises we had used in 1995 as well as the cold area we had hired. We erected a small city of tents in the hall, which with a temperature of -25°C meant we had to install patio heaters in each exhibitor’s tent. That contrast between the heat in the tents and the biting cold on the other side of the canvas is something people still talk about today, and sales of long-johns have never been as good as they were then,” Mats recalls with a smile.

Örebro Exhibition Centre next
Now that his appetite had been whetted, Mats and the team of organisers realised quite soon after the 1998 fair that it was time to look for larger premises. The only option was the Exhibition Centre in Örebro, which hosted the 2001 event. Over the previous three years, there had been a lot of changes in the industry. The two former fairs focused exclusively on potatoes, but since the association of potato growers had closed down and instead become GRO, Sweden’s national association of green industries, it was time to give the fair a revamp.

“GRO was also an organiser of the fair in 2001, and outdoor cultivation was represented at the fair alongside potatoes. Our fears that the premises, around 4,000 square metres in area, would be far too large proved completely unfounded and we were all delighted with the high level of interest the industry showed in the new direction our fair took in 2001.”

Attracting the entire Nordic region
The first fairs focused entirely on Swedish growers. Now interest in the fair had reached such a high level that the organiser also realised the tremendous potential created by attracting visitors and exhibitors from the entire Nordic region. The subsequent fairs held in 2004, 2007 and most recently in 2010, all became the biggest gathering-place for industry people from across the Nordic region.

“Now my dream was no longer a dream, but a reality. We also now had the focus that I had previously missed during my visits to fairs in Europe. During the years I was active, stands that were of interest to me as a potato grower were few and far between. We now had a fair in Örebro where every centimetre of the premises was an interesting place to stop. Each stand had something to offer the industry, and that was an amazing feeling. There were 80 or so exhibitors, and each fair attracted between 2,000 and 2,500 visitors. These included around 700 to 800 foreign visitors.”

Elmia awaits
Today the old Exhibition Centre in Örebro is no more. The municipality no longer has access to the premises, and the fair itself has been discontinued. Mats felt that his previous active involvement in planning fairs was over. Before the phone rang at his home in Hallsberg, that is.

“When I was asked by Elmia to become part of Elmia Grow and their plans for a fair in 2012, I didn't hesitate. I accepted straight away, and am now part of the programme committee that works on planning. We will now be able to work under completely different conditions to before, and it’s extremely exciting and inspiring,” concludes Mats Gabrielsson, full of anticipation.