Around 100,000 people have begun to converge on the Balmoral Show at Lisburn this week as Northern Ireland celebrates its annual festival of all things agricultural.
The annual three-day spectacle got under way in grand style at Balmoral Park, with blazing sunshine baptising the best of Ulster’s livestock, food, machinery and family fun.
Rhonda Geary, operations director of organisers the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS), said they were expecting 100,000 visitors to the 65-acre site over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
This year there are some 700 trade stands, selling everything from earth movers and tractors to ice cream, hand cream, cider and ham.
For the casual visitor she recommends that they “don’t want to miss the livestock judging, such as the cattle or sheep”.
“There is also national and international show-jumping, and the BoldDog Lings – one of the most popular motorcycle display teams.
“And then there is the Food Pavilion – your nose will not let you go past it because of the beautiful smells of fresh produce coming out.”
Rhonda also recommended the Eikon Exhibition centre with its 5,100 square metres space – a shopping village which she compares to the King’s Hall at the previous Balmoral Showgrounds venue.
“There are 189 shopping stands in Eikon selling everything from hand-cream and make-up to hotel offerings.”
Last year the show had 90,000 visitors over three days.
“We are hoping to top that this year,” she said.
“We did a big push into the Republic of Ireland to try and encourage people to come up for a day out.”
About 60 per cent of visitors are from farming backgrounds.
“But there are also a lot of non-farming visitors from Lisburn and some 6,500 children on school trips.
You could probably walk around – if there were no crowds – in 30-45 minutes without stopping, she said, but it is a full day out when people stop to browse and chat.
“It has always been said it is like ‘the farmers come to town’ – maybe every farmer in the country!
“We have 3,500 animals on site for the next three days competing for £140,000 of prize money. So Balmoral definitely has a big following for all the stock men and women.”
A big emphasis this year is that the show is promoting ‘The Year of Food and Drink’, working with NI Good Food.
“Up in the Garden Village we have the Edible Garden where we are showing people what they can grow in their own garden and how they can turn that into food, how they can see the whole process. There are cookery demos there too.”
The aim is to show the livestock and the processors in the same location and then the finished product.
“We want to show the public where their food comes from and the stages it goes through to get to their plate.
“It is about supporting local producers and encouraging people to buy local.”
Show 12 months in planning
The Balmoral Show takes place over three days every summer, but the team behind it is kept very busy for the other 11 months, such is the scale of the operation.
“It is 12 months in the planning and peaks every year for three days,” said Rhonda Geary, RUAS operations director.
“It takes a good two months of debriefing meetings afterwards, gathering together all the action points to improve things and tweak them better for the next year.
“Then we start in earnest in September, meeting with the farming committees again and getting their wishlist together for what they want to do for the following year.
“Beef farmers may want another class or the Women’s Institute wanting to extend their marquee because they are planning to do something extra.”