Changing visitor demographic at Great Yorkshire Show gives farmers impetus to explain their industry

A vastly changed demographic of visitors at the country’s premier agricultural show and a growing interest in food provenance mean there is an opportunity like never before for farmers to address the agricultural knowledge gap with the public, according to the event’s director.

Attendances at the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate have boomed while the proportion of UK jobs in agriculture has declined, meaning the annual showcase of country life now attracts far more people from outside farming communities, the show’s honorary figurehead Charles Mills said.

Charles Mills, honorary show director of the Great Yorkshire Show, pictured at the bandstand on Yorkshire Agricultural Society's showground in Harrogate. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Charles Mills, honorary show director of the Great Yorkshire Show, pictured at the bandstand on Yorkshire Agricultural Society's showground in Harrogate. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

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Since 2002 – when the show resumed after its cancellation the year before due to the devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak – attendances have never fallen below 120,000, reaching a record of 135,111 in 2006.

In the same era, employment in farming has declined, with 2011 Census data showing the proportion of workers in agriculture and fishing in England and Wales had fallen to one per cent for the first time.

At the Great Yorkshire Show, which returns on July 9 to July 11, this has seen fewer core farming attendees and more general public admissions.

Mr Mills, a third generation farmer near York, said: “The people that come to the show are very different from who came when I was a child. There are less people involved in farming so we are attracting a different audience from 20 to 30 years ago.”

The cattle parade in the main ring at last year's Great Yorkshire Show. Picture by Simon Hulme.

The cattle parade in the main ring at last year's Great Yorkshire Show. Picture by Simon Hulme.

The trend can be seen as a positive, he said, particularly because of a detectable spike in public interest in food and farming.

“We are not talking to the converted, but fresh people that perhaps want to ask the question ‘why’.”

Mr Mills believes that the show’s exhibitors are rising to the challenge and are increasingly engaging with the public at the show and through other avenues such as farm shops and June’s annual Open Farm Sunday event.

“Farmers have engaged far more than they used to do.

Large numbers of visitors enjoying the sunshine on day one of the 2018 Great Yorkshire Show. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Large numbers of visitors enjoying the sunshine on day one of the 2018 Great Yorkshire Show. Picture by Tony Johnson.

“At the show, there are so many more farmers in the livestock sections and in the food hall who are prepared to take that time, something I’m personally very grateful for,” the show director said.

“People want to enjoy the countryside but we also want them to understand it.”

As an indication of the growing interest in the countryside - and the Great Yorkshire Show - this year’s show has so far generated ticket sales from as far south as Windsor and Cambridge.

The widening appeal is credited by the show’s organisers, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, with exposure on BBC series The Farmer’s Country Showdown, as part of a recent flurry of TV programming focused on rural life.

Pig judging at the 2018 Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Pig judging at the 2018 Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Mr Mills said: “People watch the programmes and read articles in the ’paper because they want to understand what goes on in the countryside. They are interested in what they see out of the car window and we are clearly attracting middle-aged parents who want to know where their food comes from.”

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