Northern Ireland’s local agri-show season for 2022 is now in the rear view mirror. And what a great year it has been.

Everyone involved in all of the events can look back over recent months with a tremendous degree of satisfaction and pleasure.

My absolute highlight of the year was the culmination of the Beef Inter-Breed Championship class at Clogher. The event saw Herbie Crawford from Co. Fermanagh celebrate 71 years of showing cattle with a famous victory.

He won the championship with a seven-month-old Limousin bull calf Rathkeeland Tommy. Sired by the noted bull West Pit Omaha, the young animal was still on its mother at the time of the show.

But it’s time to look to the future. The Northern Ireland Shows Association (NISA) has clearly demonstrated that its society members do have a role to play at the very heart of the farming and food sectors. But they need support.

Support for agri show societies

Let’s hope the review of the local shows, now ongoing, concludes with firm recommendations on how these events can be adapted to further highlight the role of farming and food at the very heart of Northern Ireland’s economy.

In my opinion, this will require a strong commitment from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), one which officially recognises the need to core fund the shows in ways that complement their undoubted strengths.

Yes, agriculture minister Edwin Poots has already committed to a £200,000 pandemic-related support fund. But this is only a sticking plaster, in the grand scheme of things, where the needs of the farming shows are concerned.

The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) also has a strong responsibility to further promote and support all the local shows.

No one doubts that the annual Balmoral Show will survive and prosper into the future. But I would argue that such an outcome can only be achieved on the back of a vibrant local show network.

Symbiosis is the word that most immediately comes to mind in this context.

Some sceptics might suggest that the local agricultural shows should be able to stand on their own two feet, in a financial sense.

However, this perspective on matters is totally unfair. These same organisations already rely on hundreds of – totally unpaid – volunteers to help put on their respective events each year. The savings they make in this regard are more than considerable.

All of this comes down to a very fundamental point – DAERA must officially recognise the fundamentally important role played by NISA and then commit to supporting that organisation’s member societies on an equitable basis.