Sunshine and southern visitors expected at Balmoral Show

North’s premier agricultural show aims for 115,000 visitors to event starting this week

The Balmoral show to attract 115,000 visitors.

The Balmoral show to attract 115,000 visitors.

 

Billy Martin, like many farmers across the island, is keeping his fingers crossed for good weather this week. The 79-year-old “life-long” farmer is gearing up for one of the busiest weeks of his year, and that is even before he thinks about the silage schedule on the family farm in Newtownards.

Instead it is Mr Martin’s other job as president of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) and his starring role in one of the largest agricultural events on the island, the Balmoral Show, which will be his main concern over the next seven days.

The society is expecting to attract more than 115,000 visitors to its 151st Balmoral Show which opens on May 15th and runs until May 18th.

But Mr Martin is hoping that a burst of sunshine could see the show hit record figures this year and attract even more visitors from the South than last year.

“It is very much an all-island show in 2019, like the Ploughing Championships it is one of the biggest opportunities for people from farming communities from all parts of the island to meet up, talk and compete with each other. Although you don’t have to be a farmer to enjoy it – there are plenty of town and city dwellers who come too.

“I am very pleased to say that we have a growing number of livestock exhibitors from the South and since the show moved to the Balmoral Showgrounds we know from last year that a lot more people took day trips from the South, including as far afield as Cork to the show and I would hope we will see the same again this year,” Mr Martin said.

This year more than 3,500 animals will feature in the Balmoral Show with many competing for the highly sought-after red rosettes and championship titles in the livestock classes.

A Portland ram in the rare breeds section at a previous Balmoral Show. Photograph: Alan Betson
A Portland ram in the rare breeds section at a previous Balmoral Show. Photograph: Alan Betson

Brexit

Although the RUAS had already put plans in place to deal with some of the potential headaches Brexit could have thrown up for the show, particularly in relation to livestock from the South travelling North, the delay to Brexit has removed that issue – at least for another 12 months.

But Mr Martin expects that “there will still be a lot of people talking about Brexit” this year.

“We don’t know where we are going and we still have no answers and the worst situation for farmers, whether you are in Northern Ireland or the South, is that there would be a no-deal Brexit. That would simply be a disaster for the whole island.

“Brexit could absolutely change people’s lives – we don’t know what’s happening, whether it is to do with exports or the future for agricultural workers who come from outside of the UK to work in Northern Ireland,” he said.

In the meantime, according to the RUAS operations director Rhonda Geary, the society is delighted to welcome the 167 livestock exhibitors from the South and the 77 companies who have taken trade stands at the show this year.

Ms Geary said despite the backdrop of Brexit the show is getting “bigger and bigger each year”.

“The show has always had an all-island flavour – we take euro and sterling on the gate,” she said.

According to Ms Geary one of the reasons why the show is flourishing is because it has changed with the times.

“Everyone has their own reasons for coming, whether it is for the cattle parade, or the international showjumping competitions, which [British showjumper] Geoff Billington and Greg Broderick [who jumps for Ireland] are taking part in this year, the livestock classes or the ever popular NI Food Pavilion where there will be 90 local food and drink companies this year.

“The Balmoral Show is an interesting gauge on the economics of farming in Northern Ireland, if it is a good year then we hear directly from the trade exhibitors how much they are selling at the show, and for livestock producers it is also a really important business opportunity for them, particularly if they win in the livestock classes,” she said.