Food for thought as show begins

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TO this region’s farming fraternity, the Grand Départ of the Tour de France was just the hors d’oeuvre to an even bigger, and more important event – the Great Yorkshire Show.

Though they will be the first to appreciate the opportunity that the world’s greatest cycle event afforded them to promote Yorkshire’s finest cuisine, the reality is that times are still tough for many of the region’s farmers who are struggling to eke a living out of the land.

The reason is this. The supermarket price war – a by-product of an improving economy – is coming at the expense of farmgate prices as the major retailers look to offer the most competitive prices without jeopardising their own profit margins.

It is why the backdrop to the three-day Great Yorkshire Show, a celebration of the importance of the agricultural industry to the country’s coffers, is a pensive one. How long, for example, can beef farmers continue to breed cattle at a loss of £200 per animal?

They can’t, hence the call by the National Farmers’ Union for the larger stores to be implored to make a far clearer differentiation between British and Irish-produced beef on their shelves. If they won’t do it, then the supermarket ombudsman should compel them to act without delay.

Yet it is also important that this week’s GYS highlights the opportunities that have been provided by the Tour de France’s stunning success.

Rural Yorkshire could not have asked for better publicity. And, while the intended audience was a global one, the more immediate return is likely to be from those families living in the region’s town and cities who have a better appreciation for this county’s unrivalled countryside and intend to explore the area’s green and pleasant land. Together with the ongoing need to reinforce the unrivalled quality of local produce, this is the sales pitch which needs to be made this week. The race is now on.

Tour de triumph: County should always think big

EVEN though London turned out in force to support the Tour de France peloton, there was slight sense of anti-climax because yesterday’s sedate stage from Cambridge to the capital could never match two unforgettable days in Yorkshire where cyclists like Chris Froome had to strain every sinew.

The reason is a simple one – this county thought the unthinkable and strived to hold two stages which would test the endurance of the world’s best cyclists, rather than the Grand Départ simply being an apéritif for the defining action in France.

That this was achieved against such stunning scenery contributed to a publicity coup which has earned plaudits from, amongst others, Sir Martin Sorrell. The head of the advertising giant WPP said the Tour de France showed “the power of global and international events in changing images and perceptions and motivating people”.

It did that – the public’s overwhelming support for the Grand Départ, with an estimated five million people lining the county’s streets, made a mockery of those London-based commentators who scoffed at Yorkshire’s ability to stage an event of this magnitude.

It also showed that Yorkshire is at its best when it is united and that it should not be afraid to exploit the global recognition of the county’s identity.

Looking ahead, hopefully the organisers of Hull’s City of Culture celebrations in 2017 will be able to look to the future with even more confidence and optimism.

A rail opportunity: Trains must run like clockwork

WANTED: An inspirational leader who can make the trains run like clockwork. Job Description: To reverse the decline in punctuality levels on the country’s main rail lines. Start date: Immediate. Salary: Performance-related.

Today’s dispiriting report on Network Rail’s performance will come as no surprise to those Tour de France spectators left at the mercy of the train industry’s failure to properly prepare for the biggest sporting event in Yorkshire’s history.

Despite having 18 months notice of the Grand Départ, this still did not provide Northern Rail – and its partners – with enough time to secure sufficient rolling stock so rail users would not face three-hour delays travelling from Leeds to Harrogate to witness the dramatic denouement to stage one.

The rail industry per se is very good at making half-hearted apologies – it has had enough practice – but travellers are weary of

these hollow-sounding platitudes. They’d much rather have an energetic leader who can oversee

a new direction of travel – one which recognises that the well-subsidised rail industry is, in fact, a public service first and foremost.