The dust has settled this weekend on a tumultuous week in Irish farming.
It was a week of extraordinary weather conditions (by Irish standards for this time of year) with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. The beef price crisis escalated with farmers growing increasingly militant in their protests about the prices received at factory gates. And record numbers of almost 300,000 descended on Carlow in the south east of Ireland for the annual agricultural love-in that is the National Ploughing Championships.
This year I too made the pilgrimage, keen to experience this unique event in a location just a couple of miles from where I grew up.
I must confess that the appeal of “the Ploughing” has been slow to unfold itself to me. I grew up on a farm and, while there was no shortage of agricultural events to attend, the most memorable of these was the Spring Show, which took place in the RDS venue in Ballsbridge, one of Dublin’s leafiest suburbs.
Our entire family travelled to the city for this annual day out, gawking at the latest tractors and machinery, eating sliced white bread sandwiches in the canteen (it might seem bizarre but it was a major treat for us to get a break from home made bread back then) and enjoying a catch up with whatever neighbours we happened to bump into.
And then suddenly, in the early 90’s, it was gone. There was some consideration given to reviving the show a few years ago, but a feasibility study carried out by the RDS showed that there was little demand for an urban based agricultural show.
In truth, at this stage, the Ploughing Championships had gone from strength to strength, adding more features and attractions and positioning the festival as a means for a diverse range of brands, businesses and media channels to connect with and sell to rural Ireland.
Visiting on the first day of the show, I allowed some extra time for my journey from the capital – normally an easy 70 minute drive – however I wasn’t quite prepared for the extensive traffic management plan in place. Two and a half hours later, I found myself still traversing the hilly back roads of Carlow before eventually arriving at the very scenic site – its slight elevation affording tremendous views of the countryside.
It’s a festival with something for everyone. From fashion (one for the ladies, as we were breathlessly told over the tannoy) to food and everything in between. It is honest and open and uncomplicated. There is simply nothing to not like here. And I can’t quite get out of my head the sight of grown men gazing longingly at brand new tractors which they can only dream of affording.
More seriously, farm incomes in Ireland are a significant issue with recent figures from agri-finance specialists IFAC showing that 38% of beef farmers are unsure if they will still be farming in five years – with the average beef farm loss excluding EU subsidies amounting to €116 a hectare. Many farm families require off-farm income to support their households; a trend that is steadily growing year on year. It’s a complex situation which has evolved over many years and has no quick solutions.
I have to admit to being a little biased here, but Carlow looked simply sumptuous this week, with a glorious view to Mount Leinster and beyond from the ploughing fields. I felt an inordinate sense of pride that my small county (the second smallest in Ireland – a fact which was drummed into us from age 5 in school) was hosting this enormous event with great style and substance.
While the location for 2020 hasn’t been confirmed yet, this will be a tough act to follow.
More information on http://www.npa.ie.