16 March 2001

Crisis fears rise for main shows

By Jonathan Riley

and Donald MacPhail

FEARS are growing that some of Britains biggest agricultural shows could be cancelled this summer because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The Royal Show, Britains premier agricultural event which attracts about 160,000 people to its showground at Stoneleigh, Warks, is due to take place in July. It is organised by the Royal Society of England. Mike Calvert, RASE chief executive, rejected any suggestion that the show might have to be called off.

But Robin Keigwin, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, confirmed that the July date for the Great Yorkshire show is under threat. "We are already thinking about a partial cancellation, postponement or even a total cancellation," he said. "Almost every society is considering the same options."

Time is running out for other events. The Nottinghamshire show is seven weeks away. Organisers were holding a crisis meeting as FARMERS WEEKLY went to press. An official for Northumberlands Tynedale show, due to take place in late May, said talks were continuing. But prospects were gloomy, she admitted.

County show organisers for Leicestershire and Surrey have already cancelled their events. A Leicestershire spokeswoman expressed her belief that all agricultural shows this summer should be cancelled. A spokeswoman for the Surrey Show, said: "Livestock is the heart of the Surrey show. Going ahead without it was unthinkable. Going ahead with it too risky."

Foot-and-mouth controls have already put much of Britains most beautiful countryside out of bounds to visitors. The Lake District and Dartmoor are particularly badly hit. The English Tourist Board has claimed that the crisis is costing tourist-based businesses £250m a week.

Some commentators have questioned why tourism, worth £64 billion a year, should suffer from restrictions to help farming, which contributes only £9bn. But a straight comparison of farming and tourism is unfair, according to former NFU economist Sean Rickard. Farming should be considered within the context of the whole food industry which is worth a similar amount as tourism, he said.

Mr Rickard, who now lectures at Cranfield School of Management, said rural hoteliers had a better case for consequential compensation than many farmers. Livestock producers with animals caught up in movement restrictions would be able to sell stock later but many hoteliers had lost revenue forever, he said.

"The rural tourist industry is more deserving than the average farmer, but neither should get any compensation," insisted Mr Rickard. If consequential compensation is paid to one group, it sets a precedent for many equally deserving cases, such as hauliers and abattoirs, he added.

As businesspeople who must take risks to make profit, farmers should have insured against foot-and-mouth, said Mr Rickard.

"If we go down the road of consequential compensation, someone is going to be on the wrong side and feel they are deserving."