Are country shows for countryside folk…

Strutt & Parker

Strutt & Parker - Credit: Archant

Or for farmers, foodies, or families?

Strutt and Parker

Strutt and Parker - Credit: Archant

Here’s a question: what and who are agricultural shows for these days? Has the main purpose of putting on such events remained the same over the hundreds of years that such shows and fairs have been part of the British countryside? Are they simply a rural visitor attraction to make money – or are they still an important networking event for those immersed in agricultural life?

I suspect that most Cheshire Life readers have been to some sort of agricultural show or country fair in the past 6 months and I hope that you were lucky with the weather… Cheshire is a county blessed with many working farms and in these days of very variable milk prices, reported grain-mountains, ever-changing weather patterns, food prices tumbling down or rising steeply, the fact that farmers persevere is a wonderful thing. But I wonder what the proportion of visitors to shows in Cheshire these days are actually farmers, or those connected with the agricultural business?

In “the olden days”, before having a car was the norm, shows were undoubtedly the highlight of the calendar for those living in the countryside – a chance for disparate rural communities to meet up, exchange ideas, and participate in age-old competitions for the best dairy cow, the fattest pig, the brownest eggs, the lightest sponge, the straightest furrow and the largest onions.

Our office in Chester becomes immersed annually in the Nantwich Show, the biggest one day show in the country. For the 6 months or so that it takes to pull our stand together, I become obsessed with detail – everything from sourcing our vintage china for our tea party, to measuring how long our bunting is, from the invitation design to realising I will soon be twitching with nerves to see if we’ll be dealing with blazing sun or torrential rain. Our small stand becomes its own world – into which we welcome long-standing clients, potential purchasers, visitors wanting farming or valuation advice, current vendors, and friends and family who want a quick break from all that is on offer: the largest cheese tent in the world hosting the International Cheese Awards, shire horses, driving classes, cattle, poultry, home produce, arts & crafts, Floral art, horticulture, honey, horses, sheep, pigeons, dogs – and of course shopping!

Strutt and Parker at a country show

Strutt and Parker at a country show - Credit: Archant

The most excitable guests on our stand are the boys (of all ages) who have been to visit the machinery lines. Whilst it may not be that today’s farmers are there to purchase a combine harvester, the farmers of the future still enjoy the sheer enormity of farm machinery in the flesh! Once upon a time, the country show would have been where new and updated machinery would have been launched upon the farming community and all the marketing was reliant upon the resultant word-of-mouth reviews. Now, farms are run as very slick commercial businesses and will have been able to do exhaustive research online. And in addition to that, there are specialist shows dedicated to machinery (not a boutique, or ice cream stall in sight!) Farm consultants and farm business managers will be fully “in the know” about what is coming on to the market – and where they can view it. The likelihood of them taking time off just to view such machinery at a county show whilst they are juggling harvesting, milking or form-filling is slim. It’s not to say that farmers don’t go to the shows – just that they go for different reasons: there’s no better place to see farming mixed up with rural and city crowds, meet the policy makers, shake hands with those in farming and agricultural organisations, meet up with suppliers – see and be seen.

However, one of the biggest draws of shows and arguably as important an attraction now as 100 years ago, are the animal competitions. Whilst for the uninitiated, it is fabulous to see all the different types of cow, pig, sheep, goat, horse, chicken, pigeon, duck and goose – for the farmer, winning a prestigious prize can make a difference to prices at the pedigree auction. Looking back into the history of Nantwich Show, the first show for poultry was held in 1859 – and over 150 years later, the Poultry Tent still pulls in crowds. I suspect Food Tents and Stalls would now come a very close second. The “field to fork” ethos has had a major revival, and whether you are from town or country, you’ll be happy munching your way around a country show, sampling the delights that are specific to whichever county you’re lucky enough to be in.

Agricultural shows should be about agriculture: so whilst there will be shops, crafts, artisan foods and live displays (be they quad bikes, gymnasts, diggers, or the Pony Club), show-goers will expect things about farming in all guises: machinery, farm animals, food – and farmers.

For us, we both manage and sell farms and estates: Nantwich Show is where we catch up with our clients and their tenants in a convivial atmosphere – and in person, not over the phone or via an email! We can see what innovations are both on site and promised for the future. It’s a great day out, but more than that, it’s about promoting our business and our people to those immersed in all things country and farming business. And – when the sun is shining, it is the best office we work in all year!

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea - Credit: Archant

Strutt & Parker, 37 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS 01244 354888