Opinion: The value of local farm shows can’t be overstated

I find myself writing this on a day that, in a normal year, would be the highlight of the local calendar.

The beginning of August in our region hails the “end” of summer, with each local farming community coming together to put on a display for the locals and tourist alike, and a bit of friendly competition – from poultry to shepherds’ crooks, and everything in between.

See also: Holyrood must show its hand on policy reform, says Colin Ferguson

About the author

Colin Ferguson
Colin Ferguson is a Farmers Weekly columnist and dairy farmer from the Machars Peninsula in south west Scotland. Along with his parents and brother, he milks 450 cows on two units supplying Arla Foods. Colin is also the NFU Scotland regional chair for Dumfries & Galloway and a Scottish Enterprise rural leader.
Read more articles by Colin Ferguson

Wigtown Show is but a stone’s throw from where I farm, and is put on expertly by the local agricultural society – a group of volunteers who on the first Wednesday in August welcome the entire community to Bladnoch Park for a “ryhct guid day oot”.

Unfortunately, like many other show societies in the UK, they have again decided to cancel due to Covid-19 restrictions.

They can hardly be blamed. Many run on shoestring budgets and, for the sake of ensuring longevity, can’t afford to gamble and cancel at the last minute.

The value of these events, which take place in many rural communities the length and breadth of the country, cannot be measured solely in a monetary sense.

The team effort to pull them together; the chance to meet old friends; the joy of displaying your year’s work; and, for a few, the prestige of winning your respective class with your animal often hold more personal achievement than winning bigger national competitions.

Rural communities are greater than the sum of their parts, but if I was to identify what held those parts together, I think I would solely pin it on the annual shows which, rain or shine, bring out smiles and old friends for a blether.

So, while our industry is looking forward to massive change and our government is focused on recovery, they should be looking to ensure the glue that holds our valuable communities together gets the support to ensure they can bounce back.

What we must strive to avoid while “building back better” is solely looking for the big wins or vanity projects that allow funders to easily fulfil targets with one stroke of the pen.

These so often underperform, are too focused on value in a monetary sense, and don’t deliver the legacy the investment deserves.

Just last week, I hosted the leader of the Scottish Labour Party on farm. Anas Sawar, a former dentist, was unapologetically urban. Agriculture was as alien to him as root canal surgery is to me.

But it was clear that he understood the importance of listening and, while the intricacies of managing grassland that has received less than 75mm of rain since May wasn’t something he could relate too, he understood the importance of farming to rural communities working together to create local economies.

If we want to ensure support from politicians, and be granted access to taxpayers’ money, we must be able to show the value from that investment.

Providing affordable, healthy food on its own is not enough. It also involves managing landscapes and the people in them, through employment, investment and sustainable practices.

Today is bittersweet. Unusually for Wigtown Show day, it is dry and wouldn’t have resulted in tractors on standby to tow cars off the site.

But I am also full of optimism as I look forward to the return of the event next year, knowing that what we once may have taken for granted, will hold even more value to the local and farming community.

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