Image: EASYFIX's Enda Corrigan (left) and Cillian Droney (second left) chatting to Robert (right) and Reuben Williamson from Co. Monaghan at the 2021 Royal Ulster Winter Fair

There's little doubt that the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) Winter Fair, held at Balmoral, is fast becoming a truly all-island dairy spectacular.

Within one hour of arriving at this year’s event, I found myself bumping into visitors from 12 different Irish counties.

Later in the afternoon, a quick review of the results notched up in the show ring further confirmed the truly all-island dimension that reflected every facet of the event’s competition schedule.

During his tenure as chief executive of the RUAS, Colin McDonald made it clear that he wanted Balmoral Park to be a central hub for the entire Irish farming and food sectors.

Brexit may have muddied the waters, to some extent, where this matter is concerned, but with the passing of time and the opportunity given for the waters to settle once more, it is obvious that McDonald’s vision for the future was spot on.

All-island Winter Fair

The inexorable progress towards a coherent, all-island agri economy is now evident. A case in point was the recent securing of Fane Valley’s interest in Linden Foods by ABP.

No sooner had this deal been settled when Fane Valley went and secured a 50% share holding in Drummonds, one of the biggest grain and fertiliser trading operations in the Republic of Ireland.

And no doubt, further cross border investment opportunities within Ireland’s agri business sectors will develop over the coming years.

It all adds up to an exciting future, one which can and should help develop increasing opportunities for farmers on both sides of the border to develop new and sustainable business opportunities.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Politics aside, the protocol offers Northern Ireland’s farming and food sectors a unique trading advantage compared with other regions of the UK.

This solely based on the fact that these industries are so much more reliant on exports than is the case in England, Scotland and Wales.

And, of course, what works in one direction, where trading within the island of Ireland is concerned, should work in reverse.

Meanwhile the RUAS is sitting on a piece of prime real estate that is only a few hundred yards away from the M1 motorway and the opportunity to access all parts of Ireland without impediment.

The need to build a spur off the motorway into Balmoral Park was recognised as a priority for the RUAS from the day and hour it moved from Belfast to its new location.

And if such thinking was valid almost a decade ago, I sense its relevance is even more clear cut today.