DUDLEY -- The 2016 Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair has won seven awards for excellence.

The awards include first place in three competitive exhibits categories from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, three from the North Carolina Association of Agricultural Fairs and one from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

The fair won the North Carolina Association of Agricultural Fairs' Youth Award, Agriculture Award and its prestigious Image Award given annually to fairs that represent what a state agricultural fair should be.

It is the 18th time the fair has won the Image Award since the awards program started in 1977.

The Agriculture Award given to the fair that best showcases agriculture and the agriculture heritage of the area served, and the Youth Award is presented to the fair that best showcases youth and youth activities in the area served.

"I think we have won the Youth and Agriculture awards more times than any other fair in the state," fair Manager Eddie Pitzer said.

The Agriculture Award is important because it is what the fair is all about, office manager Edythe Blanton said. Also, agriculture is very important to the economy of the county, she said.

"Yet it is something our youth don't know a lot about, and this gives us the chance to showcase agriculture in a lot of our exhibits," she said. "The Youth A ward is based on your involvement with youth. We have junior livestock shows. We have a junior division where you can have exhibits. We have a cheerleading contest, a spelling bee, talent shows -- many ways that our youths can compete and learn more about the fair and agriculture."

The N.C. Department of Agriculture Got to Be NC Award is given in recognition of the fair that best fosters a deeper understanding of North Carolina agriculture an its relevance to local citizens.

The three first-place awards in competitive exhibits from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions are for:

* Outstanding Competitive Method Display or Prop.

"The objective of it is to create props or methods of display for the folks who enter their items into the fair," Sandra Head, exhibit coordinator, said. "We want to have unique ways to show off those items for folks to come in and see. We also want to be able to share those with others so that they can use those same kind of ideas in their fair."

* Single Photo of a General Display. The winning entry was a photo of a display, which was the Got to Be NC display done by the fair. The award is based on the overall effect of the display, Mrs. Head said.

* General Photo Display Series that involves a community partner. The fair enjoys a strong relationship with Cooperative Extension, Mrs. Head said. The photos were on the Extension Service display on good nutrition and activities for children.

"We like winning awards, and we like to be recognized for what we do," Pitzer said. "But there is really a bigger picture in it. We enjoy what we are doing, and we are always looking for ways that we can do better. So it is a constant challenge for us as to how we can plan.

"We are already talking about what we are going to do this coming year, and what we would like to change, and what we can do."

The fair a team effort, Mrs. Blanton said.

"The public schools, the Extension office, our volunteer directors, the people who exhibit -- it takes all of it," she said.

Another aspect of the fair to be proud of is the community's interest in bringing out exhibits, Mrs. Head said.

The 2017 fair, owned and operated by the Wayne County Livestock Development Association, will be held Sept. 28 through Oct. 7.