The History of Agri-Expo

The Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society was established in 1831.  In 1996 the Society registered Agri-Expo as the marketing brand.

Today, Agri-Expo is a professional promotion and marketing organisation for the agriculture sector, focussing on exhibitions and other Public Relations initiatives, in the interest of its members, agricultural role players, the government and the public.



Ten years after Napoleon’s death, two years after Beethoven passed away, and in the year Lord Charles Somerset governed the Cape Colony, a group of farmers got together at the southern tip of Africa – not only because they needed social interaction, but to compare the standards of the products and to discuss research methods. On 29 November 1831, the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society was founded in the Cape, and Michiel van Breda acted as chairperson.


Two years later, on 22 June 1833, the first prize for wine was awarded by the then Chief Judge, John Wilde, to Mr JJ Marais of Groot Drakenstein for his Madeira wine sample. Today, this occasion can be considered the forerunner of all wine shows in South Africa.


Although wine played an important role right from the beginning there was a need to show off animals and on 23 September 1847, the first animal show was held on the Parade in Cape Town. The Parade housed these shows for the next 10 years. After 10 years, the Show on the Parade moved to the Paddocks at the upper end of the Gardens. The Paddocks were small camps reserved for Sir George Grey’s horses. The show expanded and soon many products such as poultry, animals, machinery, ploughs and even gardening tools were exhibited.


The government, after repeated requests by the Society, granted £400 to be distributed to agricultural societies for the purpose of presenting shows. The result was the first Big Show, held in Caledon in 1858. After this, five shows were held in Worcester, George, Swellendam and Paarl and in 1865, the sixth Big Show was held in Cape Town. All along, the purpose of these shows was to improve the quality of products and to promote the image of agriculture.


The Society not only presented shows, but continually attempted to bring about progress. The first representations to the government were addressed in 1866 for establishing an experimental farm in the vicinity of Stellenbosch.


Yet, the most important petition was delivered to the government in 1884 for establishing an agricultural department. As a direct result of this, the Department of Agriculture was founded in 1886.


This period was a time of petitions, and in 1888, the first agricultural school was established in Stellenbosch with a two-year agricultural diploma at the Victoria College. This was the beginning of the Elsenburg Agricultural College.


One of the highlights of the Society came to pass when a piece of ground was donated to the Society in 1893. The Governor at the time Sir Henry Loch described it as follows:” It is difficult to conceive a Showground more favourable situated with from every part of the showground delightful views of our grand old Mountain” – This was Rosebank!


In 1894 the first show was held at Rosebank and, like all the others that followed, it was a huge success. In 1899, however, the Anglo Boer War broke out and the Rosebank Showgrounds were occupied by the military.


In 1903 the Society started to record animals in a register – this was the beginning of a studbook and the Society requested coordination on national level. From this request, the SA Studbook was founded in 1905.


Hardship and wars were the order of the day with the First World War from 1914 to 1918 and the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. The depression followed and the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 also influenced agriculture in the Western Cape, nevertheless the Society held the first Yearling Sales in 1928. This is an activity which is still presented with great pride!


This Society did not stagnate and from the 1930‘s, show dates were coordinated, just like it is still done today by Agri-Expo as custodian of traditional agricultural shows.


In 1950, a total of 100,000 visitors flocked to Rosebank as people were hungry for shows. The grounds soon became too small and the last show at Rosebank took place in 1952. Rosebank is still associated with the famous mule teams that were presented as a highlight of the show every year. During the last show twenty two (22) mule teams participated. After 60 years it was the end of an era and Rosebank was handed over to the University of Cape Town in 1952.

1954 - 1995

1954 – 1995: A new era – – Goodwood! At the Goodwood Showgrounds, the Society not only concentrated on the show of agricultural products, but also presented programmes involving commerce, industry and entertainment. There were many highlights through the years. The annual Cattle parade was a spectacular view and people often refer to the good old days of the Young Wine Show. The SA Pig Championships, SA Dairy Championships and of course the first Indoor Horse Show in 1971 are a few of the highlights. The first show in South Africa for measured production of Merinos was presented by the Society in 1984 and the first cheese auction in 1987. People crowded to the show grounds to see the military Tattoo in 1987 but the record for the most visitors at the Cape Show was set in 1990 when 255,000 visitors attended! During 1992, the World Hereford Championships were held here and is considered a highlight by many staff members to this day. Another era ended when the showgrounds was sold, and the last show was held at Goodwood in 1995.


In 1996, the marketing name Agri-Expo was registered, making Agri-Expo both 190 years old and 25 years young this year. What a milestone for the oldest agricultural society in Africa!


Agri-Expo’s leading role with the establishment of the National Youth Show Association, before the turn of the millennium in 1998, contributed to South African youth, today, in all nine provinces, having exposure to a show ring, extensive knowledge of animals as well as having developed an affinity for Agriculture.


2001 saw the introduction of the Qualité logo, awarded only to dairy products of outstanding excellence – and the only mark of excellence for South African dairy products. This innovation resulted in the improvement of product quality, incentive schemes from manufacturers, marketing opportunities for retailers, AND consumer awareness of the excellence of dairy products in South Africa.


The first South African Cheese Festival in 2002 made the consumer take a fresh look at the wonderful variety of South African cheeses available. Opportunities were created for manufacturers to develop new products and to use this platform to get immediate feedback on their products straight from the consumer. The South African Cheese Festival still offers small entrepreneurs the opportunity to expand their business and many success stories are told of reputable companies that owe their origin AND growth to the SA Cheese Festival.

2005 - 2013

We are grateful for our partnerships with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture in projects such as Cape Made: Taste the Alternatives and support for Small Cheesemakers. From 2005 to 2013, Agri-Expo acted as facilitator of the Burgundy Cheesemaking Fellowship, a bilateral agreement between the Western Cape Government and the Regional Government of Burgundy, allowing a total of 38 South African student cheesemakers to participate in an exchange programme to France.


Agri-Expo’s 175th celebration

2006 - 2009

The very first From the Earth Expo was presented in 2006 and also in 2009 at the Cape Town International Convention Center (CTICC). The full spectrum of Agriculture, Products and Animals, Primary and Secondary Industries, was brought to the town, and hosted inside a Conference Center. In 2011, a world-first Horse Auction inside a Conference Center in a city center was presented – also with Agri-Expo as organiser.


South Africa’s largest multi-disciplinary Horse Show was hosted by Agri-Expo on the farm Sandringham in 2010, with 709 horses participating in one day. This was an event that spoke of creativity, innovation and logistics skills as seven arenas had to be managed simultaneously.


A unique Dairy event was created in 2011 with the first Cape Dairy Experience at Sandringham and through innovation this event was transformed into the Agri-Expo Livestock Expo in 2014, where especially the showring was regarded as world standard by exhibitors, judges and consumers. In 2017, the public could join in a new concept, the Groot Plaasproe – a taste of all things farm. The highlight was in 2019 with the biggest Dairy Show and the biggest Beef Interbreed Championships of its kind in South Africa, with hundreds of members of the public encouraging the participants.


Agri-Expo is proud to have been involved since 2016 in the annual Wine Harvest Commemorative Event at Groot Constantia. The purpose of this event is to celebrate the South African wine industry’s inception on the 2nd of February 1659, to ask for the Blessing of the Harvest, and to honour role players.


Agri-Expo’s 185th celebration

2016 - 2020

For five years, from 2016 to 2020, Agri-Expo presented an exciting series of tastings to promote agriculture at the annual Toyota Stellenbosch University Woordfees, with unique gourmet experiences such as Konsortium Merino lamb paired with award-winning Veritas wines.


As a member of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth, Agri-Expo regularly attends the Commonwealth Agricultural Conference. In 2017, Agri-Expo organised the first ever RASC Next Generation Assistance and Understanding Mission to South Africa. A group of thirteen young international agricultural leaders from across the Commonwealth were hosted for a period of two weeks.


The global Covid-19 pandemic has also hit South Africa hard and brought about many challenges. Agri-Expo’s ability to innovate was evident in 2020 when the very first virtual awards event in the agricultural sector was presented on 26 March 2020. The virtual South African Dairy Awards paved the way for many virtual events to follow.


Presenting a virtual Awards event WITH entertainment was another challenge, but innovation prevailed and Agri-Expo succeeded in hosting the Sauvignon Blanc South Africa Top 10 Awards event with the well-known Nataniël as guest artist in 2020. An event that was described by well-known wine writers as the BEST awards event in the wine industry.


To recreate Information Days for new and small farmers at an existing event, such as the Livestock Expo, into a hybrid event – our Siyabonga Days in 2020, with hundreds of participants engaging and with international participation, speaks of innovation and perseverance.


The end was not yet in sight and through innovation Agri-Expo managed to become the only organisation in the world to host a Dairy Championships continuously in 2020 and 2021 during the Covid pandemic. The hybrid South African Dairy Awards event in 2021 has been described by the industry as a highlight in the history of Dairy Awards events in South Africa.


Agri-Expo celebrates 190 Years of Heritage as the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society (since 1831) and 25 Years of Innovation as Agri-Expo (since 1996)