It was the first time the event had been held in the town and it was expected to attract more than 350 farmers, rural professionals and sponsors.
Event committee member Rebecca Finlay, who came up with the theme, said dairy farmers needed to be dynamic — they could not be stuck in their ways.
There was constant change as they dealt with the likes of new compliance and regulations and they had to be agile and responsive to that change.
For those organising the event, there was a sense of relief that it was going ahead in the format they originally envisaged, given the earlier restrictions caused by Covid-19.
Planning began a year ago but, as the situation kept changing, they had to keep looking at how to “repackage” SIDE for whatever restrictions the country was under, so there could still be some sort of connection for farmers to come together, learn and celebrate.
It was only in March that they “pressed play” on the event, as it stood. It was not an event that could be run on the likes of Zoom, as it was all about connections, SIDE governance group member Bridget McNally said.
And that connection was something that people were craving, particularly farmers, Mrs Finlay added.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many had stayed on the farm, not going to town or on holiday, or shied away from visiting friends and family.
They could not afford to get Covid-19, in terms of time, because the cows still needed to be milked and interactions with staff were needed, so many had isolated themselves.
For the committee, to be able to “plough on” and have a conference as they envisaged, was great.
“It’s a conference run for farmers by farmers, that’s really key,” she said.
The biggest driver that kept the organisers going, when other events were postponed, was the opportunity to bring so many people to Oamaru.
“We’re hoping they’ll stay for two or three days with their partner and realise how amazing Oamaru and Waitaki is and bring the kids back for a holiday. It’s that taster,” Mrs McNally said.
Registrations opened the night before so people could spend more time in the town, with retailers, accommodation and hospitality providers benefiting.
Asked why farmers should attend SIDE, Mrs McNally said they would be connecting with people in their industry, learning new things, building confidence in what they knew and learning about new technologies and ideas.
Employers needed to make the dairy industry much more exciting and attractive to people, Mrs Finlay believed.
Part of that was about making the job less labour intensive, and utilising innovation and technology, so it was also about getting feedback from other farmers and hearing their experiences.
A diverse range of keynote speakers and workshops were on offer at SIDE, including a presentation from former Rocket Lab engineer Craig Piggott, winner of the 2020 New Zealand Hi-Tech Young Achiever award.
He would share how he found solutions to help his dairy farmer parents reduce their working hours.
That search led him to launch Halter, a technology company which has developed a farming system that allows farmers to easily move and manage their herd through software.
42 Below vodka founders, Geoff Ross and Justine Ross, would outline how they swapped life in Auckland for Lake Hawea Station, the first farm in New Zealand to have its carbon footprint certified.
Dr Tom Mulholland, who spent 25 years in emergency medicine and eight years travelling around New Zealand with his pop-up medical clinic, would discuss strategies farmers could use to maintain their physical and mental health in times of stress.
Farmers could also join four of 14 practical workshops on a wide range of topics from wintering to milk futures, reproduction, plantain and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As part of SIDE 2022, a separate BrightSIDE event for young farmers and farm team staff who wanted to advance their careers was also being held.
It included workshops on how to keep healthy, new technology to make managing farms easier, career progression opportunities in dairy and developing good financial habits.
BrightSIDE, which was sponsored by local employers, was a great way to reward new entry level farm assistants and provide professional development, Mrs Finlay said.
Organisers had talked to the likes of Workbridge, the Ministry for Social Development and schools to get young people along who could be “fantastic” farmers, Mrs McNally said.
SIDE was based at the Oamaru Opera House and the Brydone Hotel, while a steampunk-themed dinner, Full Steam Ahead, would be held at the Loan and Merc, preceded by drinks at the Steampunk HQ.
A flash sale of $100 off registration ran until today.