By Steven Moore
The RUAS, the ‘old man’ of agriculture, came in for some criticism from FarmWeek, then just a youngster after its founding some six years previously – but already with a vision of a future that some might consider uncannily accurate.
In its editorial column following the Balmoral ‘centenary show’ of 1967, it was critical of the path being taken and what it saw as a move away from modern agriculture and more towards a broader exhibition.
“Having established a success pattern the RUAS is understandably reluctant to depart from it even though it needs to be brought more into line with modern requirements,” the paper argued.
“In its earliest days Balmoral Show fulfilled admirably its prime function of providing farmers with an opportunity of seeing the latest in livestock breeding developments and machinery, and the townsfolk with the chance of taking a look at what their country cousins had to offer.
“While this might have been a commendable achievement 100, 50 or even 25 years ago, modern mass communication through Press, radio and television, together with the many advisory services now in operation, ensures that the farmer is well aware of the latest developments in machinery and agricultural techniques as they come on the market.
“What he then wants to see is how the new machines make out under actual working conditions – and here Balmoral falls down completely.
Representatives of the commercial firms will certainly try to answer his queries but at Balmoral a practical demonstration is generally impossible.
“If the RUAS wants to be able to boast that it provides the farmer with the opportunity to see and test the latest in machinery then it is time it provided – at Balmoral or elsewhere – a proper testing ground for implements.
“Such an innovation would not only be welcomed by farmers but also by the machinery firms which would be able to sell their products ‘hard’ and to clinch orders on the spot from farmers who want to see a machine working before they are convinced that it will satisfactorily do the job for which it is intended.
“Turning to the livestock section, production figures are at last beginning to play a part in the judging of selected classes but the main emphasis is still on characteristics which – although admittedly indispensable in commercial stock – should not be over-stressed.
“Balmoral could take a lead in the establishment of on-the-hoof and on-the-hook classes for beef cattle which would give fresh impetus to beef cattle breeding. Through progeny classes and still more attention to production standards, the ordinary farmer could be educated into a great appreciation of what can be achieved by planned breeding and efficient management.
“Perhaps it is too much to hope that after a century of ‘success’ the RUAS will change the established formula. If it does not, there is a very real danger that the show will eventually become less and less associated with agriculture and become a huge trade fair, with a touch of country charm, for the inhabitants of Belfast and the surrounding towns.
“Were this to happen, there is little doubt that under the skilful management which has always existed behind the scenes at Balmoral the ‘Royal Ulster’ would go on getting ‘bigger and better’ – but it would fail completely to fulfil the vision of its pioneers.”