DUDLEY -- The Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair has harvested a bumper crop of awards.

The 2017 edition of the fair won eight awards for excellence, including the North Carolina Association of Agricultural Fairs' Youth Award and Agriculture Award.

The Agriculture Award is given to the fair that best showcases agriculture and the agriculture heritage of the area served.

The Youth Award is presented to the fair that best showcases youth and youth activities in the area served.

The fair probably has won those two awards more than any other fair in the state, fair Manager Eddie Pitzer said.

It also received the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Got to Be NC Award given in recognition of the fair that best fosters a deeper understanding of North Carolina agriculture and its relevance to local citizens.

The fair also captured two first-place honors in the International Association of Fairs and Expositions' agricultural awards program and one first-place and two second-place awards in its competitive exhibits category.

The International Association of Fairs and Expositions represents more than 1,100 fairs from around the world. It promotes and encourages the development and improvement of agricultural fairs, shows and expositions.

"Competing in both the IAEF and the N.C. Association of Fairs awards program is a great opportunity for us to grow and remain a relevant fair," said Sandra Head, exhibit coordinator for the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair. "Participation in the award programs keeps us stretching ourselves to become better.

"Going through the application process keeps us in touch with the criteria that creates excellence in a fair."

Winning awards is rewarding, Head said.

But the greater value in participating in the programs is how much fair officials learn and hopefully improve in order to provide a better experience for fair participants and fair-goers, she said.

The awards are a validation of all of the hard work that goes into the fair, said Edythe Blanton, who works with the Wayne County Livestock Development Association which owns the fair.

The challenge to being able to compete also keeps the fair looking for new and fresh ideas, Pitzer said.

"The thing about those awards programs is that we really get to see what other fairs are doing," Pitzer said. "We go and look at their ideas and see how they have been able to display and do competitive exhibits.

"Then we bring that back home and put it to work."

Mark Hood, association president, said a lot of upfront work has to be done in order to even be considered for the awards.

Staff members are to be commended for their work doing that, he said.

"It don't just happen," Hood said.

The fair received first place in the IAEF agriculture challenge category for its efforts to improve both the facility and the process for all of the livestock shows that occur during the fair.

Improvements include the construction of the livestock show barn with a new arena, penning and prep areas for show animals. New procedures include separate entrance and exit paths for livestock show participants and designated areas for both contestants and visitors, as well as enhanced safety systems.

Improvements continue to be made at the fairgrounds, Pitzer said.

The old silver streamers have been removed from the exhibit building where new lights and ceiling fans have been installed.

Plans also include adding a demonstration kitchen in the building.

A new gate has been installed on U.S. 117 North to improve the traffic flow when exiting the rear parking lot.

Also, the new exit gate and Gate 1 entrance will have paved access to the highway.

The fair also won first place in the IAEF agriculture individual photo contest for a submitted photo of Taylor Glover of Pikeville with her grand champion heifer.

The winning photo shows Taylor holding her banner next to her heifer with the Ferris wheel in the background.

Judges commented that the photo "encompassed the spirit of a fair" and "captured the essence of youth excited about agriculture."

Taylor is the daughter of Brian and Joy Glover. Taylor's mother took the photo while Taylor's friends captured the heifer's attention to get the perfect photo.

During the recent Wayne County Livestock Development Association banquet, Pitzer presented the plaque from the association to Joy Glover and a framed copy of the photo to Taylor.

In addition to the agriculture awards, the Wayne Fair also racked up three awards for its entries into the IAEF's competitive exhibit categories.

A first place was awarded to its entry into the general display photo series. This category includes a series of five photos of an educational, historical or community display done by the fair or a community partner.

The winning entry, created by Michelle Estrada, Wayne County Extension agent, featured a kitchen and outdoor grill area filled with examples and information geared to teach food safety

A second-place award was received in the single photo of a competitive exhibit category for the fair's updated "Best of Show" display.

The display area was redone last fall in the trendy "farmhouse" style. Silver corrugated industrial metal, natural wood, and charcoal gray chalk paint were key elements used to create the new look for the backdrop used to show off the Best of Show winner from each adult competitive exhibit category.

Another second-place award was received in the exhibit display method and or prop category.

The fair added a "farmhouse porch shed" to its Reclaimed, Re-purposed, Reused competitive exhibits. The shed was built to enhance the display area and the category itself.

This category was added to capture the new trend in crafting, much of which leans toward a farmhouse look. The porch was further decorated with lights, a burlap backdrop, a rustic table and crates and a jute rug.

The 2018 fair, owned and operated by the Wayne County Livestock Development Association, will be held Sept. 27 through Oct. 6.