Amid COVID-19 lockdown the rural calendar of Open Farm Sunday and Royal and agricultural shows has been decimated.
Some like Cereals, The Great Yorkshire Show and LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday event have introduced a virtual experience. Presumably such a move might entice the professional, or late night internet surfer but is unlikely to inspire the traditional family visitor. But given the wider public health concerns why does it matter?
Well this will be another blow to the rural economy, along with the cancellation of tourism for much of the season. The Eastern Daily Press reported earlier in the year that the Royal Norfolk Show contributes around £20 million a year to Norfolk’s economy.
These shows might look like a quaint rural tradition to some, where the dressing and parading of odd shaped and unrecognisable animals is the pastime of the few. However, they provide an important platform for smaller food and drink producers to showcase and sell their wares. Not to mention the plethora of trade and retail outlets who rely on the shows as a vital trade event.
Another loser from the cancellation of these events is the charity sector. On its website, Park Farm Thorny notes that in 2018 over £10,000 was raised by local Charites, presumably rattling buckets, over the two days of the 2018 Open Farm Sunday. It is hard to imagine how some of those smaller, but vital charities, will generate that £500 of small change.
We all hope that the businesses and Charities will survive after all shows were also cancelled back in 2001 amidst the foot and mouth crisis. What however might be an even greater loss, in this year of Brexit, the Agriculture Bill and USA trade talks, is that UK Agriculture is perhaps losing a vital platform to make its voice heard to the consumer and to the politicians at this key moment in history.
The introduction of the Agriculture Bill and any trade deal with the USA has the potential to impact the rural economy, and farming practices, long after Covid-19 has been consigned to the history books.