Farming fortunes lay finely balanced with the industry’s intense uncertainty starkly apparent in the agricultural heartland of Ryedale where not one single commercial arable farm has been sold so far this year.
Mixed harvest fortunes and a costly reliance on bought-in animal feed caused by a wet spring abruptly giving way to a lasting hot, dry spell, as well as an enduring lack of political clarity over farming’s future, have left the agricultural community trying its best to get on with the job at hand.
The Ryedale & Pickering Lyth Agricultural Society was also forced to make the best of tricky circumstances ahead of today’s 152nd Ryedale Show at Welburn Park in Kirkbymoorside. Just days before the show opened the society was rocked by a senior member being taken ill, while thunder and lightning forced organisers to abandon the show site mid-preparations.
“Everyone has pulled together,” said show secretary Christine Thompson, who remarked that farmers too are carrying on the best they can, regardless of the unanswered questions of future support for farming beyond March 2019.
Both changeable politics and weather, as well as retail price wars, make farming a particularly volatile industry and like much of the rest of the county, Ryedale endured a sodden period between September last year and this March before the weather broke to leave fields parched and grass growth stunted, hitting what is a vital supply of homegrown food and bedding for livestock.
Livestock farmers are incurring additional costs mid-summer to feed their animals and this raises fears of a crisis being stored up in the months ahead when hay and silage supplies dwindle further.
Speaking at Ryedale Show, Helen Benson, Yorkshire co-ordinator of the Farming Community Network, said she expected charities like FCN and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution to face a surge in requests for assistance from farming families later in the year when finances become tight.
“People are carrying on but I think later in the year reality will kick in,” she said.
Tough business conditions are contributing to a cautious farmland market, William Douglas, an associate director at property firm Savills told The Yorkshire Post at today’s show.
“This year in Ryedale, not one commercial arable farm over 300 acres has been sold. That is relatively unusual and I think it is partly down to the late spring and political uncertainty,” he said.
Geoff Todd, group secretary for Ryedale at the National Farmers’ Union, said farmers are optimistic but are desperate for clear future policy direction from Government in the post-Brexit era.
Today’s show offered a welcome distraction for the farming fraternity however.
Providing a light hearted touch was the Ryedale District Young Farmers Clubs, whose chairman Rob Beal was repeatedly plunged into a pool of water when challengers succeeded in throwing an object through a target.
In the main ring and young children, including one just eight-months-old, raised smiles in a horseback fancy dress competition where costumes included a bagpipe player.
A new feature was a contest for primary schools that saw pupils tasked with growing a meal in a wheelbarrow. Sinnington Community Primary won with an Italian fast food theme planted with courgettes, tomatoes and garlic.
Show president Stephen Stonehouse of Brawby enjoyed a break from 22 years of service as the show’s chief dairy steward to assume the top job and hailed the show a great success, saying: “It’s a difficult year but this has been all about celebrating farming.”
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Nosterfield’s Ernie Sherwin took the supreme sheep title amid a highly competitive section of the show featuring a near-record 1,152 entries.
His homebred Wensleydale, a triplet and yearling ewe in wool called Nosterfield Bedale, stole the show while its sister was reserve champion gimmer shearling.
The top beef entry was a British Blonde, Everingham Judy, shown with its first calf, Everingham Oscar, by Neil and Jess Barrett of Everingham, York. The same pair won the beef championship at Driffield Show and its breed class at the Great Yorkshire Show.
In reserve was a Hereford bull shown by debutants Bethan Hutchinson and Nathan Day of Hartlepool. Their beast was bought from Halifax’s Heather Whittaker last year.
James Waterhouse of Fourth Milestone Farm near York won the supreme dairy contest with a homebred four-year-old, Fourth Milestone Wanita. A Jersey from the Crosbys of South End Farm near Thirsk came second.