Ben Barnett: 5 lessons from day two of the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate

Day two of the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate brought some high-profile livestock championships, surprisingly dry weather and heaving showground avenues.

A view of day two of the 161st Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Picture by James Hardisty.

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A view of day two of the 161st Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Picture by James Hardisty.

So, what did I learn from this second instalment of 'version 161' of the country's biggest agricultural show?

Farm payments

Derided for years over the late payments of lifeblood direct support monies to farms under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, it was interesting to see the boss of the Government's Rural Payments Agency attending the show.

Would risking the irk of frustrated farmers been on chief executive Paul Caldwell's agenda had it not been for recent 'wins'? His agency's timeliness of making payments to farmers has improved after years of administrative IT systems failures that unfairly heaped cash flow problems on farmers. He used his visit to the show to highlight "record" performance levels in the latest payments window.

The grand cattle parade took place in the main ring on day two of the show, with the spectacle due to be repeated on day three at 2pm. Picture by Simon Hulme.

The recent announcement that all outstanding agri-environment scheme monies - owed to farmers from as long ago as 2015 in lieu of environmental measures instigated on farms - is being paid off using Treasury funds this month also gave Mr Caldwell a stronger platform from which to address a farming public that remains deeply mistrusting of the future effectiveness of his agency.

What was revealing from an address he gave to land owners and farmers at the Country Land and Business Association's breakfast meeting today, was that there is an ongoing "culture change" underway in his department, that less "casual" staff are being employed to handle farmers' calls about payment problems and that he very much admitted that the RPA has to change the way it operates to be an effective "conduit" between farmers and government.

Dutch Spotted

Previously this sheep breed, the Dutch Spotted, was not sufficiently represented to merit a class of its own. That's now changed and the winner of the breed's classes, a two-crop ewe shown by Scotland's Ali Jackson, went on to be named the show's supreme sheep champion - remarkable recognition for the farmer and for the emergence of the little-known breed.

Day two at the 161st Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Picture by Simon Hulme.

According to the Dutch Spotted Sheep Society - which only became a registered charity three years ago - the UK's original importer of the Dutch native is a Mr C Maguire from Lancashire.

Though still uncommon here, the Society reports that the breed can be traced back to before the First World War. It is described as a hardy breed of sheep that was originally grazed on the dykes in Holland to help maintain them. There are an estimated 1,000 breeders, with the majority based in Holland but they are starting to be bred in the UK, partly because they are known to thrive on a grass-based system to produce a quality "meaty" carcase.

First time's the charm

Never be afraid to try. That is certainly something the show's hosts seem to be trying to impress on young minds as they consider their future career options. The show's guest appearance of The Red Shepherdess, Hannah Jackson, who can be located at the showground's new Gen Z zone enthusing about her path from "townie" to hill farmer, is part of a drive to attract the best young talent into farming careers that they may not even be aware of.

In the cattle rings, farmer David Nicholson from the hugely popular visitor attraction Cannon Hall Farm near Barnsley, proved that having a go at something new can be truly rewarding.

Remarkably given his years in farming, before this year's 161st Great Yorkshire Show, Mr Nicholson had never exhibited at a show. All that has changed and despite some challenging moments - some initial mishandling of ropes and readjustment of cow legs - he enjoyed a day to remember as his Highland cow Fern earned three rosettes, including reserve breed champion. Not bad for a first timer and he told me he may well have just caught 'the showing bug'.

Enduring appeal

Having now graced our television screens for eight series of The Yorkshire Vet, you could be forgiven for expecting folk to be a tad blasé about the chance to meet its co-stars, North Yorkshire countryside vets Peter Wright and Julian Norton. Not so. Definitely not so.

A book signing session with Thirsk-based Mr Wright - whose memoirs The Yorkshire Vet: In the Footsteps of Herriot has been well-received by fans - was mobbed with signature hunters. Both vets have appeared at the showground before, not least when they were the stars of autumn event The Yorkshire Vet at Countryside Live in 2017, but the connection that viewers have made with the programme and its veterinary heroes continues to be truly remarkable.

It is also an encouraging sign that the wider public want to watch rural programming in their droves. Anything that helps bridge the rural-urban divide is hugely important in an increasingly urban-centric world. The programme's success has also elevated the profile of the veterinary profession, which, if the public looks further at, will see that just as in farming, it is a challenging time for the livelihood. The Brexit mess is putting off gifted foreign veterinary workers from working in the UK at the same time as independent practice - the type made famous by Alf Wight, aka James Herriot - is dwindling to the point of near-extinction in Britain.


On a somewhat lighter note and to update any reader's with any sort of bemusing concern for this hapless reporters' street-cred after my day one run-through, the emergency purple umbrella was pressed into action en-route to the show today. And, horror of horrors upon opening, beyond the abundant purple trim was produced a transparent material, leaving the identity of the suited correspondent, be-dashed with 'pretty' umbrella tones, hopelessly exposed. Mercifully the showers held off for the vast majority of a show day that felt more like a summer's day than a throwback to autumn.