Sun forecast at Balmoral Show but Brexit casts a long shadow

Annual show expected to attract about 100,000, with cross-Border participation up

This year’s show has already attracted an increase in entries from the South for the livestock competition events

This year’s show has already attracted an increase in entries from the South for the livestock competition events

 

Brexit and British Blondes are expected to be among the top talking points on Wednesday at one of the biggest agricultural events in the North, the 149th Balmoral Show.

Sun is forecast for some of the events but the question of what Brexit – and life without European subsidies – could mean for Northern farmers is casting a long shadow.

The annual show, organised by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, is expected to attract about 100,000 people this year – including growing numbers of farming families and competitors from the South – as it moves for the first time to a four-day event from May 10th.

Colin McDonald, RUAS chief executive, said this year’s show had already attracted an increase in entries from the South for the livestock competition events and he expects fierce rivalry between Northern Irish farmers and their southern counterparts for the highly prized red rosettes.

Mr McDonald said the show was a good barometer of the economic health of the North’s farming community, which latest statistics from the Department of Agriculture suggest have suffered a decline in incomes.

The figures show that the average farm business income dropped from £25,094 to £14,788 per farm between 2014-15 and 2015-16. Direct payments – including European subsidies – decreased by £495 per farm between 2014-15 and 2015-16 and averaged £24,972 per farm and £281 per hectare in 2015-16.

Mr McDonald said the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is likely to dominate many conversations during this year’s show, which for the ninth year in a row is sponsored by Ulster Bank.

But, he said, the more than 700 trade exhibitors and variety of attractions – including the new Health and Fitness Village and the Healthy Horticulture Area – indicated that there was room for optimism.

“Farmers and businesses are still recovering from a very bad period in the last three years but there are indications that it is turning around and that this year is better than last,” Mr McDonald said.

A good day out

He said the show would deliver on its long-standing promise to “be a good day out” for generations of farming families. Established favourites such as the dedicated NI Food Pavilion, which this year will showcase more than 100 local food and drink producers and the exploits of 50 chefs, would all add to the “unique atmosphere”, he said.

With a UK general election looming next month, the 2017 Balmoral Show is also likely to attract many politicians hoping to harvest votes from local farming families.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union, which represents farmers and growers, is one of the organisations that will have a stand at the show, and it expects reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy to “dominate discussions”.

Barclay Bell, the UFU president, is appealing for politicians to “back farming” and has said agriculture must be a “key part of Brexit discussions”.

“Farming matters,” he said. “It is a cornerstone of our economy, instrumental in managing our countryside, and at the heart of our rural communities. Shoppers want to buy local food that is world-renowned for being safe, affordable and high quality, and we want to deliver it.”