IT is hoped a £200,000 support package for Northern Ireland’s agricultural shows will give this year’s show season a much needed boost after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of most shows over the past two years.
Announcing the bounce back support scheme, Farming Minister Edwin Poots said: “Many businesses and sectors were adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and our agricultural shows were not immune to these effects, with all shows cancelled in 2020 and only a few being able to take place in 2021. This resulted in shows losing the opportunity to raise vital funds that would help prepare for the 2022 season.
“Shows play a vital role in showcasing our excellent agri-food produce and supporting our rural communities, as well as boosting our economy and the additional tourism opportunities.
“These shows are predominately run by many volunteers who give of their free time and I would like to extend my thanks to them for all of their hard work.
“Pre-pandemic agricultural shows attracted more than 200,000 visitors. It is essential therefore that NI shows have the opportunity to run a full schedule this year to promote and facilitate future economic growth for agri-food businesses and I am pleased that I can support their efforts through the provision of the £200,000 bounce back support scheme I’ve announced today, which will allow each show to claim up to a maximum of £10k for new or increased costs.
“Departmental officials will contact shows directly in the next few weeks to assist them in availing of my support scheme.”
Looking to the future, Minister Poots has announced plans for an independent review of local agricultural shows, which will explore the potential for longer term support options and help shows remain sustainable in the years ahead.
He added: “Although I am providing support to our local shows this year, I am of the view that Government departments and local councils should consider options for longer term support.
“I am therefore announcing plans for an independent review to commence in the next month or two which will aim to explore future support options and guide future policy, in addition to identifying new and innovative methods which would be utilised by local shows to help safeguard their future.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has welcomed the announcement, stating the support scheme will provide essential funding.
UFU President Victor Chestnutt said: “We had been lobbying Minister Poots to provide much-needed support for local agriculture shows that had no choice but to cancel events in 2020 due to the pandemic and only a handful were able to take place in 2021.
“The shows provide a great source of revenue and while they weren’t able to happen or experienced significant smaller crowds last year because of the virus, expenses still had to be paid putting them under financial pressure. This would then have a knock-on effect on planning for the up and coming shows in 2022.
“We’re very pleased that the Minister took all our concerns into account and has now launched a bounce back support scheme for local shows to help alleviate the losses they incurred over the last couple of years.”
“Local agriculture shows are so important for promoting the very best of our agriculture industry to the public while also attracting visitors to rural areas and providing an enjoyable day of socialising for farming families,” said Mr Chestnutt.
Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart has also commended the Minister for providing the financial support.
Ms Lockhart said: “I have been working alongside representatives of local agricultural shows to press home the need for some form of financial support, following two years of detestation to these much loved community events.
“Therefore I am delighted with the announcement from my colleague Edwin Poots MLA that he is bringing £200,000 of funding to the table to assist shows to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many shows have not been held for two years, but costs have continued.
“That has made restarting these events difficult, with cash reserves long gone. This funding will enable organisers to press ahead with plans for 2022.
“I know I am looking forward to visiting these agricultural shows this summer. They are showcase events for our agri-food industry and a great chance for town and country to meet in support of our agricultural heritage. It will be great to have them back!”
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