A wonderful selection of photos from this Event can be viewed and downloaded from the Farmers Club Photo Gallery within the Library section of the website https://www.flickr.com/photos/farmersclublondon/sets/72157684122708305
MORE than 80 members of the Farmers Club gathered on a splendid spring evening in the Presidential Suite of Belfast’s top hotel, the Europa, with fine views over the city, to celebrate all that is best about farming in Northern Ireland on the eve of the 149th Balmoral Show.
A wonderful buzz accompanied the gathering as the sun streamed in over the hills to the west, a very fitting time for Club Chairman Tim Bennett to honour the dedication and commitment to the Club of Norman Shaw CBE, a past chairman, chair of trustees and vice president.
“Norman has been the architect of a lot we’ve done at the Club and we owe him a great debt of thanks for all the sterling service he has put in,” Mr Bennett explained, as Mr Shaw stepped down from his roles after more than 44 years of commitment to the Club.
The Farmers Club was a UK club, not a London club, Mr Bennett continued. “We have a strategy to go to events around the UK, because we are run for the benefit of all our members. The updating we have been doing in London is important too, as it helps to keep us relevant, and that is paying off, as seen by the strong membership amongst our Under 30s in particular.”
Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore was the guest speaker at the dinner, which was attended by
Royal Ulster Agricultural Society President Cyril Millar and Chief Executive Colin MacDonald, and many of Northern Ireland’s leading farmers. Lord Kerr, a member of the UK’s Supreme Court, regaled all present with amusing tales from his years as a barrister, judge and lord.
Whilst he admitted to very little by way of farming credentials, his final comment drew warm applause: “Farmers supply the life blood of our country. They are literally and undeniably essential to the community in which we exist, an industry that is utterly indispensable to our way of life.”
The dinner was sponsored by McDonald’s, whose Peter Garbutt stressed the importance of championing the values of farming with the public as the Brexit debate accelerated. With that in mind the company was again using Virtual Reality headsets at the Balmoral Show to show members of the public inside a meat processing plant and various farms, underlining the importance of traceability and quality control in the supply chain.
But Brexit implications topped debate at both the dinner and the show. Whether it should be a ‘hard’ border, with checks and tariffs, or a soft border with free movement of goods and labour, was at issue. With a political vacuum in Northern Ireland, following the dissolution of the assembly, and sharply opposed main parties, the debate seemed to be stalled.
The role of Irish negotiators was seen as pivotal. Irish ministers, with an eye to their important agricultural sector, and beef exports to the UK in particular, had fought hard to ensure the border was an issue that would be resolved before the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the EU started in earnest, it was noted.
More broadly uncertainty dominated, with talk of a ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland, an all-Ireland food supply chain, and even shared sovereignty, to deliver a soft border. Strong Irish representation could help secure single market access for Northern Ireland, and maybe GB too, it was suggested. But there was also a fear that Irish producers, especially of beef, could then exploit Red Tractor assurance.
Preserving the total beef herd across the UK and Ireland, in the face of reduced tariff, or no-tariff, third country imports, was important for food security, some argued. But food processors, retailers and caterers had imported to assured standards before, with international auditing seen as routine. It was feared they could do so again. Milk companies sourcing and processing on both sides of the border also faced turmoil.
The Show broke all previous records with an attendance well over 100,000, including Prime Minister Theresa May, who attended with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire.
Show-goers were treated to an extra day as the Balmoral Show went from strength to strength since its move to its new site at the 65 acre Balmoral Park, where the first phase of the new Eikon Exhibition Centre had ushered in a new era for the RUAS.
With enabling funding from residential property development on the old show site a further development of the Eikon facility was planned, which would also benefit the RUAS Winter Fair, an event already billed as the best winter farming event in the UK and Ireland.
Sponsored by Ulster Bank, and with support from SPAR, M&S, ABP, Tesco and LIDL, livestock showing was markedly up in many sectors, whilst the food village attracted over 100 food exhibitors and 50 chefs, cementing the legacy of last year’s Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink. The show celebrates its 150th anniversary next year.
A live milking demonstration using 40 Holstein cows and a Lely Astronaut 40 robot was a particular hit. With over 250 of Lely’s 24,000 robot milkers on farms in Northern Ireland the region has a higher than typical proportion of the machines.
Farm safety featured highly too, with Ulster Bank, the Ulster Farmers Union, Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster, health and Safety NI and The Farm Safety Partnership producing a 30 second animated video promoting farm safety from the winning story-boards in a competition for school children aged 7-16. Winner Matthew Nelson from Downpatrick won with “next time you are playing on a farm, stop, think, and stay away from harm.”
“Farming is one of Northern Ireland’s most important industries and can be highly rewarding, but it is also an industry with risks,” commented Cormac McKervey, Ulster Bank’s senior agriculture manager. “We believe education has a centrally important role to play in helping prevent farm accidents and fatalities.”
Details of further Club talks and events can be found on the Events page of the Farmers Club website here http://www.thefarmersclub.com/events