The Iverk Show committee and members made the long trip to Belfast last week to visit the internationally known farm extravaganza known as The Balmoral Show.

This is now the largest agricultural show in Ireland’s 32 counties and rivals the former Royal Dublin Society Spring Show in its heyday which this writer remembers attending during our school days.

Forty Waterford and Kilkenny based farmers, or farm related operators, representing The Iverk Show traveled by train and they were joined by many others from the south who exhibit and visit this show regularly.

The group covered not just the show but also a political tour and a trip along the Antrim coast. We were very impressed with what we saw and would recommend others to go there too and see what our Northern neighbours have to offer.

We noted how it was really busy there and they get 75,000 visitors over the duration of the three-day show. The 15,000 to 20,000 attendance at Iverk stands up well by comparison.

Royal visitors

Also at the Show were English Royals Prince Edward and Zara Phillips who competed in the equestrian events on the Thursday. The First Minister, Ian Paisley, was also there and is a regular every year as are many other government ministers.

The VIPs kept the security forces busy as helicopters flew overhead while police using sniffer dogs and scanners tended to matters on the ground. There was nothing to worry about in the end but, with a policeman blown up a week earlier by dissident Republicans, they were taking no chances, Earlier, the Iverk group had been given a political tour to the Shankill and the Falls Roads to see the murals and the peace line and get a feel for the situation.

The attractions at the show are numerous from the usual cattle and horses to children’s events, sponsored mini farms to farm games for children using miniature machinery. There were excellent food tents with craft foods and great gardening displays including a small bee- hive where you could see the drones, workers and Queen. You could learn about tree planting too and how to make a good garden.

The show had a huge machinery display and many of the farmer members in the group spent hours in this section seeing the latest advances on the market. The indoor trade section was packed with stands in the Kings Hall, including a number of southern trade exhibitors from Wexford and Wicklow as well as border areas.

Music prominent

Music was also a big theme. The BBC hired special bands for the three days playing everything from country to rock and salsa in what was a very large site behind the main arena at Balmoral and the Kings Hall, off the Lisburn Road.

The supermarkets were also more involved and anxious to support local farmers with all the major groups like the American Walmart owned Asda, Tesco and Marks and Spencers all offering recipes and good food ideas.

They really wanted to sell the story of food traceability and how they purchase from local farmers in Northern Ireland.

There were lots of ideas for the Kilkenny men to bring home. Joe Malone, President PRO of Iverk, spoke highly of the Balmoral Show and, in conversation with Matt Dempsey, Editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, felt that, maybe, the RDS could be revived. Mr. Dempsey is a board member of the RDS. The food industry is becoming more important in today’s economy and we need to strengthen the links between country and capital city. Of course, The Iverk Show attracts many urban dwellers with farming links and a Dublin based show could be similarly attended.

Mr. Malone described the cattle section as ‘excellent’ and the beef ones ‘magnificent’. There were large entries and some from the South got rosettes. The cattle stayed in sheds overnight with their minders. The dairy section was also of a high standard but there were few Friesian entries and more of other breeds such as Jerseys. Ulster men like their sheep and those exhibits attracted the largest crowds and entries. Livestock incorporated pigs, poultry, goats and many rare breeds.

No mischief

The horse and pony section stretched out over the three days and some of the exhibitors were also known from their visits to Iverk. The grounds were kept impeccably clean in spite of the huge numbers enjoying the fine weather. No hawkers were allowed thus no spray paints or water pistols that youngsters use sometimes. Mischief is frowned upon and, given the history in the North, we understand good behaviour is important,

The Show had an excellent media and information centre detailing results backed up by a splendid web site. Fast food merchants were kept to specific areas. You could also buy nice coffee and crepes as well as the burgers, fish and chips. Magners Cider from Clonmel had a hospitality area too for their products. Glanbia had a stand in the main hall, where farmers discussed milk prices.

The company has a cheese factory in Magheralin Tyrone, where they make mozzarella cheese for the pizza industry and big customers like Pizza Hut. They have 300 suppliers north of the border and buy a similar amount of milk at auction. They also own the Virginia plant in Cavan where the famous Baileys Cream is manufactured for Diageo.

The entry to the Show at 15 pounds sterling is pricey but they do provide a lot of entertainment and the programme and catalogue give a full running order. There was much to interest a variety of people and could be easily planned in conjunction with a shopping trip or a visit to the new IKEA Store in the North. We will have more on the political tour that was undertaken for next week’s issue, plus photos.