The man who has been at the forefront of the country’s premier agricultural show for almost a decade is adamant that the future of farming is bright, despite the latest gloom being felt by plummeting farmgate prices for dairy farmers.
Bill Cowling has this week announced that next year’s Great Yorkshire Show will be his last as show director, after which he will have served a ten-year stint in the influential role. Yet the esteemed head has no intention of stepping away from agriculture and, speaking to Country Week on the eve of another of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s (YAS) major events, Countryside Live this weekend, he urged his fellow farmers to take precautions where they have not done so already by spreading the financial risk to their operations through a variety of separate enterprises.
A mixed farmer himself, Mr Cowling farms around 600 acres in Pannal near Harrogate with the help of his wife Christine and his sons Tom and Guy. The show director exited the dairy industry more than a decade ago - a family decision, he said - due to falling milk quota prices. Instead the family now concentrates on the arable side of its business and the finishing and fattening of livestock.
“Ever since we left dairy farming it has been a case of one or two moments where dairy farmers could possibly see light at the end of the tunnel but that always seems to be short-lived and the pressure seems always to be on them. I’m generally optimistic about the future of farming, but with dairy I’m nothing like as confident as I am about beef and sheep because the commitment in terms of time and effort and management skills that are needed, and the investment in all the infrastructure is massive and the rewards appear to be lower than everything else.
“One of the strands we have always pursued as a farming family is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I know it’s easy to say keep one or two other enterprises going but it makes a difference.”
Mr Cowling has made countless friends as the YAS’s show director, not least through his humble and welcoming demeanour and his willingness to put himself in the spotlight - whether that’s being the public face of the Great Yorkshire Show on a record breaking year as in 2006 when 135,111 visitors attended, playing host to a long list of Royal visitors including The Queen in 2008, or indeed in less thrilling times, for example in 2013 when he announced an investigation into the alleged tampering of a competing cow’s udders and the decision to abandon the show for the first time in its history after day one due to poor weather in 2012.
He may have more time to pursues his other interests - such as art, antiques and caravan trips - when he leaves the position of show director next summer, but he said he intends to stay involved with the YAS and will serve on some of the Great Yorkshire Show committees.
“It is something I have enjoyed immensely,” Mr Cowling said of his role. “But I came in intending to do five years and I’ve nearly done 10 so I thought it was a good time for a change.”
Countryside Live takes place at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate this weekend.
Some favourite moments
Bill Cowling was first involved in the Great Yorkshire Show by showing cattle of his own.
Later, he served a long term as chairman of his local show, Weeton Show, and became an assitant cattle steward at the Great Yorkshire.
As show director he says he has enjoyed many moments.
“It was wonderful that the 150th show was in my time which is an amazing achievement for any event.
“On a much more personal note both my granddaughters have been lucky enough to present bouquets to Royals, the Duchess of Cornwall and to Pricness Anne, and I have meet so many interesting people.”