WITH low prices for some of the mainstays of British agriculture, the task of making a living for any farmer is as challenging as ever.
But the summer showcases of produce and livestock remain vital to ensuring the message from rural communities remains strong – and the countryside economy is given every chance of evolving.
The 206th Otley Show, one of the region’s longest-running agricultural events, was held on Saturday and farmers in attendance were defiant despite challenging times. It is the traditional season opener and the mood was mainly upbeat in dry but blustery conditions during the event.
As well as thousands of visitors, Otley attracts a loyal contingent of beef, dairy and sheep farmers to compete in the show rings and this year saw record entries in the sheep section.
Show chairman Francis Caton, 51, a member of the Wharfedale Agricultural Society, said he did not expect the low prices farmers were receiving for milk, lamb and beef to have a bearing on the quantity or quality of competitive entries this show season.
“It’s a bit detached,” he said. “People look to show whatever they have produced and reared and it’s different to the end product. You can’t really compare showing to prices. It’s a little bit of competition and people enjoy getting together and taking pride in their livestock.”
Mr Caton, a beef and sheep farmer at Weston near Otley, was acting as the chairman of the show for the first time this year after being involved in the sheep section for more than 20 years.
In the sheep pens, it was the show chairman’s cousin, Ashley Caton, 38, of Otterdale, North Yorkshire, who won the supreme sheep championship with his homebred Blue Faced Leicester tup. He said: “This is the first time I have shown at Otley and I’m delighted to win. It is most unexpected.”
Sheep section chairman, Nicholas Houseman, of Lindley near Otley, has been involved in the show for more than 40 years, and was buoyed by the quality of livestock.
“We’ve had over 400 sheep this year – 50 more than last year, even though it’s been a tough time. For the first spring lambs of the season farmers were getting £15 to £20 less liveweight compared to the same time last year and the milk price is all wrong, but farmers keep coming and showing their best animals. They don’t do this for the money, they look after the countryside and take pride in what they produce and today – people coming together and having fun – this is what it’s all about.”
Julie and Gordon Sedgewick, of Aycliffe, County Durham, won the supreme beef interbreed champion with their 510kg Limousin Cross heifer, Priceless, whose first 24 hours as a newborn last year were spent motherless after her mother’s insides ruptured, killing her during birth.
Mrs Sedgewick said: “We have been coming to Otley for 10 years but had never won the overall championship until now.”
The supreme dairy champion was David Lawson, of Arthington, who won with a Holstein milking heifer from his family’s closed breeding herd. Mr Lawson, a fourth generation dairy farmer, said the show offered some light in otherwise dark times for dairy farming.