With the show season underway and in what is Farmers Guardian’s 175th year, it is timely to reflect on the changing role of national and county shows within the fabric of rural areas during that time.
Originally a place to showcase livestock genetics or farming best practice, they were a necessity in a world not linked by digital communication, the internet, social media, or accessible transport links.
Like everything, things change, and shows have become more than just a shop window for individual animals or companies; they have become a link between rural and urban communities and a chance to showcase the best of British agriculture.
Super-sized gatherings such as the Royal Highland, Royal Welsh, Great Yorkshire and Balmoral shows are even used as platforms by leading politicians and Prime Ministers hoping to boost their rural credentials, such is the pull of the events.
Their importance, therefore, is what makes this week’s decision by Scottish Blackface sheep breeders to boycott Balmoral such an interesting move.
The spat might be an isolated one, but FG understands livestock breeders across the spectrum are becoming frustrated at the attitude some show committees have towards them.
This is manifesting itself at certain shows in prize money not living up to expectations, increased entry fees and convoluted housing arrangements for livestock.
There are also wider disease considerations impacting some shows, particularly those in areas plagued by bovine TB, as exhibitors simply cannot take the risk of attending.
But we have seen too often how big events, such as the Royal Show, can lose their way once they abandon that farming core and, in a vastly changing world in which fewer people know where their food comes from, it is crucial that livestock, and agriculture in general, remain at the heart of our national and county shows.
Having that ability to showcase farming and explain to an urban audience why agriculture is key to the ongoing vibrancy of rural areas is a privilege we should work hard to preserve.