Young agricultural show volunteers need to be valued, warns Mark Stoddart, chairman of Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations

The value of agricultural shows to farming and to rural communities cannot be underestimated, said Mark Stoddart, chairman of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, and treasurer and secretary of the Yorkshire Federation of Show Societies. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
The value of agricultural shows to farming and to rural communities cannot be underestimated, said Mark Stoddart, chairman of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, and treasurer and secretary of the Yorkshire Federation of Show Societies. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
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Internal politics as well as a shortage of young farmers is stopping some of the region’s agricultural shows from reaping the benefits of new ideas that could help sustain them for years to come, the leader of a national show body has said.

According to Mark Stoddart, chairman of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, there is a reluctance by some senior members of some show committees to relinquish control to new incumbents.

“There tends to be the old stalwarts who have been there for years and aren’t necessarily willing to put the show into the hands of the next generation. Every show goes through its politics every few years,” said Mr Stoddart, who believes a lack of faith in youth is short-sighted.

“Young farmers should know they are never being taken for granted because they are the next generation and we need to be encouraging them.

“Show committees can benefit from having a blend of the traditional and the modern. Some shows are very good at this, others aren’t.”

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Mr Stoddart is also secretary and treasurer of the Yorkshire Federation of Show Societies and financial controller of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

He said an exodus of farming families from rural areas, as smaller farms have been squeezed out by poor market returns, is being felt by show committees.

“The exodus of farming families is starting to have an impact on shows because there is a lack of people coming through but I don’t think it should be overestimated,” he said. “There are people coming through who are having a big impact but it relies on existing committees wanting those young people to come forward.”

Some 72 people from 28 shows attended an annual Yorkshire federation meeting in Harrogate last weekend, including five or six aged in their 20s.

There are 67 agricultural shows held across Yorkshire, each typically attracting between 2,000 and 10,000 visitors each year and Mr Stoddart is upbeat about their future, believing that their importance to farming communities remains huge.

“Agricultural shows, particularly the smaller ones, are the lifeblood of some areas,” he said. “At Pateley (Bridge), my local show, exhibitors come down off the hills and it is one of the few main social events they have, and it shouldn’t be under-estimated how much money they generate.

“Virtually all shows make a small surplus which they donate to local causes.”

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