Garry Norton whets the appetite for the 209th Otley Show

Seven days from now the curtain will rise on a new summer agricultural show season in Yorkshire when Otley Show makes its 209th appearance.

Garry Norton, chairman of Otley Show. Picture by Scott Merrylees.

Lauded as the UK’s oldest one day agricultural show the Wharfedale Agricultural Society is justifiably proud of its heritage dating back to the days when livestock pioneer Robert Bakewell had taken breeding and animal husbandry to the next level.

The livestock world’s foremost name in the 18th century passed away the year prior to the founding of Wharfedale Agricultural Society that came into existence in 1796 with the initial aims of promoting education and excellence in livestock farming through care, attention to detail and better breeding.

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Agricultural shows proliferated and grew throughout the UK and the rest of the world with livestock competitions creating a new hierarchy in the farming community.

The Hereford Cattle Championship being judged at Otley Show.

Times change and many of today’s agricultural shows have developed particularly in the past 40 years to include spectacular main ring non-agricultural attractions such as stunt motorcycle display teams, knights in shining armour on horses or monster trucks.

Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and other livestock still play their part but the days when farmers attended to keep up to date with the latest breeding news and new farm equipment has largely become the domain of bespoke farm industry events for the individual sectors.

Otley Show embraces the principles of yesteryear with quality livestock and the glitz of main ring attractions and others all around the showground to excite and entertain. Garry Norton is chairman of Wharfedale Agricultural Society and as such chairman of the show.

He’s been involved with it for over 20 years having started stewarding before moving on to the equestrian committee and subsequently the executive committee.

“I’m not a farmer and never have been. I don’t necessarily know one breed of cow or sheep from another, but you learn as you go along. To me cattle and sheep are what make up my Sunday roasts. I see nothing wrong with that and I believe the show’s relevance today is about getting people to know where food comes from and learning about the countryside and animals.

“It’s easy to get people from countryside and farming backgrounds to attend an agricultural show, but more difficult to get people from non-farming areas. That’s why it is important to hold it as a family show and have attractions other than cattle, sheep and horses to get the crowds. If we can get them to come because of Joseph’s Racing Camels who we have this year or motorcycle stunt teams we can then introduce them to the livestock side of things.

“I came along with my then young family in 1987 when we had moved here from Doncaster as a result of taking up my position as a police officer with the MoD at RAF Menwith Hill.

“We had a fabulous day and that’s what the show still gives today. I am passionate about the realities of farming and food.

“Farmers are continuously facing up to new challenges whether they are through political developments, administrative issues, pricing or the weather. It’s not the idyllic countryside you see on the front of a jigsaw box or a biscuit tin. There are harsh times and farm viability is a hot topic.

“I handed out the prizes for the show’s stockjudging competition held between young farmers clubs in the area last week at Wharfedale Farmers Auction Mart in the town. It was great to see that there is another generation coming forward and hopefully one or two of them will become chairman of the show in the future. That’s all part of what Otley Show and Wharfedale Agricultural Society holds dear. We all want the next generations to succeed.

“Sadly, there are a number of agricultural shows that haven’t survived, but Otley has and we are proud to be the curtain raiser for the Yorkshire season. Otley Show is thriving and we have extended our classes, rings and stands over the years thanks to the generosity of the Lister family who allow us use of the land. They are very involved too.”

The lake, formerly a quarry, now forms another attraction and this year Otley Sailing Club will be bringing a dinghy for would-be sailors to try, plus there will also be a display of remote controlled boats.

Garry and the rest of the team will be hoping for similar weather to the recent bank holiday weekend. It’s the one element they cannot control.

“We’ve had some fantastic weather and we’ve had one or two bad ones like everyone else. The weather hadn’t been brilliant up until recently as any farmer will tell you and we have one patch of land where the soil structure is only just coming right.”

The 209th Otley Show takes place next Saturday, May 19.