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That’s Show Business

It may come as something of a surprise to many that somewhere in the region of six million people now visit our agricultural and country shows each year.

That’s about 10% of the population.

In spite of a period of instability, characterized by the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001, and remembered as a time of intense pressure, most events weathered the storm and carried on, albeit with some diversification of content and audience.

Thankfully most, if not all, recovered and are now getting back to the business of what I believe to be their primary, two-fold purpose – promoting British agriculture and bridging the rural and urban divide through education.

The tradition of showing pedigree animals stretches back to the eighteenth century, and even today a parade of prize-winning cattle, sheep and pigs is a spectacle to behold.

For the hundreds and thousands of people who go along to watch, it’s the chance to get on the other side of the farmer’s hedge and see the cream of the crop, not to mention a rare opportunity to appreciate all the wonders of the countryside in one place.

With proper organization, an injection of creativity and the right marketing mix, agricultural and country shows certainly have the power to break down any public misconceptions about the farming community.

They are well-placed to promote an informed understanding of food production and the rural environment.

The key of course is to be innovative in the way you present farming to non-farming show visitors, and aside from staging livestock displays purely for exhibition, or for competition and education, a good show will also take the visitor through the food chain, using cookery demonstrations to explain how the end product can be used, then making those products readily available at food stands for public consumption.

In my view, educating the family group is particularly important, given that they are the purchasers of food in the future, and the ASAO encourages its members to include educational content as part of the event’s daily timetable.

It is pleasing to see how most shows, smaller ones included, now go to great lengths to deliver a lively programme of fun, interactive workshops, practical demonstrations and hands-on, collaborative activities to engage visiting children, teachers and parents.

It is important to keep up the momentum, and we can always do more, by tapping in to curriculum developments and learning methods, and joining forces with other education providers, to make sure that our offering is both relevant and useful.

Aside from entertaining and educating the public, however, show business is about just that – business.

Thousands of farmers across the country use the events as an opportunity to exhibit and sell prize-winning stock, meet up with colleagues and compare notes, and enjoy the social occasion with other farmers and their families.

Offering strong and profitable platforms for livestock enterprise gives them enormous opportunity to do business and helps to encourage important breed development too.

The agricultural show is a vital shop window for farmers and food producers, and a place where they can take advantage of interactive commentary, link up with industry leaders, find out about the latest legislation, technology and trends, and review modern agricultural methods and machinery.

Take Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for example, which chart the genetic factors of an animal, as well as more traditional criteria such as birth, wool type and conformation. They have been described as performance indicators of the unseen, offering additional valuable information about good sound animals.

EBVs are growing in importance in the sheep industry, as selecting the right breeding stock can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful sheep enterprise. Used properly they can help breeders become more profitable in the long run.

So, it is important that the agricultural show of the 21st century highlights new methods of tracking vital genetic information in showing and selling animals, like these, together with other exciting new developments, and provides forums for farmer discussion and industry advice on current topics.

In short, it must serve as a valuable means of cascading interest and knowledge to breeders, farmers, food producers and the public at large.