Attendance down but 52,000 still make trip


RAIN AND heavy traffic marred the opening day of the National Ploughing Championships yesterday but 52,000 people still made the journey to Heathpark, New Ross, Co Wexford.

This was down by 19,000 on the first day of last year’s championships in Athy but organisers said they were very happy with the attendance, given the weather conditions. “We’re still thrilled, to be honest with you,” said Anna May McHugh of the National Ploughing Association. “It was a very, very bad morning.”

She met a couple with a one-year-old child in rain gear on their way into the venue at 5.50am yesterday. “It wouldn’t happen in any other country,” she said.

Garda Chief Supt John Roche from Wexford said the approach route from Waterford was the most congested but traffic had moved well on other approach routes. “Most of the traffic came down the M9 to Waterford instead of turning left at Carlow so therefore we had double the traffic exiting at the Waterford exit,” he said. He advised people attending today and tomorrow to leave the M9 at the Carlow exit and come via Bunclody and Enniscorthy.

The 81st National Ploughing Championships is set on a 700- acre site and attractions include ploughing competitions, livestock, machinery and forestry exhibitions, a tented retail village and cookery demonstrations. Some 340 people are competing for 21 national ploughing titles.

President Michael D Higgins met some of them before he officially opened the event yesterday. He praised the “rich tapestry of rural life” that were the championships.

They were “a great celebration of those who were not really affected by the speculative economy . . . and they are people who are producing real things with real work and . . . a huge proportion of our exports”.

Earlier, Irish Farmers Association president John Bryan said a combination of the wet summer and spiralling feed costs would add €400 million to farmers’ bills this winter. He is meeting the chief executives of all the banks to highlight the situation facing farmers.

Mr Bryan urged supermarkets to recognise the difficulties that higher costs were imposing on farmers. He encouraged the Government to protect farm schemes in the upcoming budget.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said yesterday he was reopening the Agri-Environmental Options Scheme which paid farmers for meeting high environmental standards. He was confident that up to 6,000 farmers could avail of the scheme, which has a fund of €20 million.

However, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association Gabriel Gilmartin said the provisions of the scheme did not go far enough. The maximum payment of €4,000 was “simply not enough to allow farmers to achieve the targets of the scheme”.