The agricultural show season is faced with huge uncertainty over whether lockdown restrictions will be lifted in time for many events to take place throughout the summer.
While the organisers of the Great Yorkshire Show confirmed on Monday that they had made the “joyous” decision to stage England’s largest rural showpiece in July, organisers of Yorkshire’s earliest scheduled shows have announced that they are having to cancel the events.
Research has shown that the agricultural shows industry provides a £128m boost to the economy, but cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic last year cost the sector £36m.
Mark Stoddart, the chairman of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, told The Yorkshire Post that the events provided vital socio-economic benefits to the rural economy.
Mr Stoddart, who is the financial controller at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said: “They have been ingrained in rural life for so long, and are a highlight on the social calendar providing people living in often remote communities the chance to come together.
“People are desperate to get out again after being in lockdowns for so long, so it is a really difficult decision to make if these shows cannot go ahead.
“They provide a big economic boost to the local economy too, and also give the chance for people to learn about best practice when they meet up at the shows.
“There are going to be some difficult decisions, but we hope that events later in the summer will go ahead - but this is dependent on the timetable of restrictions being eased.”
A series of shows have already fallen victim to the ongoing pandemic, as current restrictions have made it impossible for the events to go ahead.
The committee responsible for staging the Otley Show, which is the oldest one-day agricultural show in the country after being founded in 1796, confirmed on Thursday night that this year’s event on May 22 had been cancelled.
Organisers from the Malton Show, which had been due to be held at the end of June, announced last month that it had been cancelled, while the Ryedale Show will be held online this year on July 27.
Among the biggest events nationally have also had to be cancelled, with organisers behind the Royal Highland Show, which normally attracts 200,000 visitors, announcing it had been cancelled.
The organisers behind smaller shows in Yorkshire have admitted they are faced with a huge dilemma as to whether to try to proceed with this summer’s events.
Catherine Park Peyton, the chairwoman of the Aldborough and Boroughbridge Show which normally attracts 4,000 visitors, said talks are continuing as to whether this summer’s event can take place at Newby Hall, near Ripon, on July 25.
Mrs Park Peyton told The Yorkshire Post that a decision is expected by the middle of this month, and added: “As a small show we must balance the books in order to allow the continuation of the show for future generations and at the same time, as a group of volunteers, consider the safe running of the day for those visiting and working at the show.”
Other events are having to be adapted, such as the Driffield Show which is traditionally staged on a single day is now due to run across two days on July 21 and 22.
The chief executive of the Driffield Agricultural Society, David Tite, said the show usually costs more than £200,000 to stage, but this summer’s event is expected to see reduced visitor numbers to adhere to social distancing rules.
The show normally attracts 25,000 people when held over a single day, while this summer’s event is expected to see between 4,000 and 10,000 visitors each day.
Mr Tite said: “We are hoping to get detailed guidelines from the Cabinet Office in the next two to three weeks, and when we do, that will help us know just what form the show can be staged. But we realise just how important the show is for the people who attend, and all the local businesses which benefit too.”
Kate Dale, the co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, a group supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said the shows represented a “hugely important part of the farming calendar”.
She added: “After the year we have all experienced, devoid of much meaningful social contact, many of us are desperate for the show season to return this year, provided it is possible to do so safely.
“We recognise that the show season has a massive role to play in supporting the community’s wellbeing and we hope it can resume as fully as possible as soon as it is practical and safe to do so."