THE moment Henty Machinery Field Days organisers have been dreading for months had arrived.
The event, which attracts crowds bigger than the Albury Gold Cup for three successive days, became the latest to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic in an economic body blow which will resonate from hotels and motels not only in Henty and surrounding towns, but Albury and Wagga.
Community groups which bank on the field days as their biggest annual fundraiser will also take a hit.
More than 20,000 people each day come through the field day gates with exhibitors converging on Henty from every state of Australia and New Zealand.
COVID-19 has not found its way into the southern Riverina.
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But the fear of the field days being the source of an outbreak was the tipping point for the seven-member board led by chairman Nigel Scheetz and chief executive Belinda Anderson.
"A month ago we thought we were still a 50-50 chance," Mrs Anderson said.
"But when the community starts to feel really concerned about being on the frontline you've got to take that into account.
"There were older volunteers who said they wouldn't be coming.
"We didn't want anyone saying 'who the hell do they think they are?'
"There has been absolutely no negativity around the decision and a lot of the exhibitors have thanked us for making the decision."
The cruel irony of the field days being called off is the bounce back in confidence in the rural sector with crops in paddocks surrounding the field days site beginning to shoot and lamb and beef prices at strong levels.
"We've had a text book start to this season, commodity prices are fantastic, we could have been heading towards our best fields days ever," Mr Scheetz said.
"The stars had aligned and everything was ready to roll.
"But there was a bit of angst building about if we did go ahead how would it all go.
"It wasn't a decision taken lightly."
Pre-planning had identified the cleaning crew of just 15 people for the entire event in a normal year would have had to be bolstered dramatically to the point where two people would be permanently stationed at the 70-plus toilet blocks across the site.
Hand sanitiser requirements alone would cost organisers $40,000 if the field days went ahead and organisers were in regular contact with member for Albury Justin Clancy's office seeking the latest advice from the health and agriculture ministers about what pressing on would look like.
The prospect of the field days being cancelled was first raised in March and by the board's next monthly meeting held by video conference contingency planning had started.
Top of the list was making a decision whether the event would go ahead by June 30.
"We had two plans, yes or no," Mr Scheetz said.
"In a normal year, exhibitors are planning eight months in advance about coming.
"But machinery dealers don't have a lot of stock at present and anything that comes in is getting sold pretty much straight away.
"We could have had a half-baked show, but we didn't want to do that."
Every year the field days have an army of volunteers ranging from teenagers to 80-year-olds who make sandwiches, cook sausages and burgers, clean, man the entry gates, park cars in correct spots and assist exhibitors.
Schools, sporting and service clubs all get a slice of the action.
Joanne Knobel from St Paul's Lutheran Primary School in Henty said the right call had been made.
"I don't think they really had much other choice," she said.
"Of course there is disappointment, but these are unprecedented times.
"We operate one of the catering sheds and we felt it was going to be tricky getting volunteers to work.
"How could we ensure safety for everybody?
"I get there has to be a point where you have to make a call because of the financial outlay.
"The money in the bank would be nice, but we are such a blessed to community to have the event every year."