Balmoral remains 'the best in show'
The Balmoral Show, the annual showcase for the agri-food industry, begins today, and as an added bonus runs for four days. It is an opportunity for the sector to display its wares and make urban dwellers in particular aware of the diversity of the industry and the innovation that helps drive up productivity on a regular basis.
Its importance to the local economy cannot be overstressed. It produces £1bn of added value and is among our most successful exporters, with 70% of output being sent to Britain, the Republic and further afield.
The show, which next year celebrates its 150th anniversary, spent most of its existence on the fringes of Belfast, but its recent move to the Maze site outside Lisburn has given it even more space to display the full range of the sector's activities. In addition to the animal classes, visitors can see the wide range of machinery used on the province's 25,000 farms, cookery displays, show jumping and a new retail village.
While it is undoubtedly an opportunity for the farming community to put on its brightest smile, there are lurking concerns about the impact of Brexit on the industry now that negotiations on the UK's divorce from the EU are beginning.
Some see Brexit as a chance to develop new global markets while still having the vital UK marketplace on the doorstep, but others are concerned about how trading relationships with Europe will pan out.
Access to the European marketplace is important, but if swingeing tariffs are imposed that would have a very negative impact for the agri-food sector here.
While many in the sector will be glad to leave behind the plethora of regulations imposed by EU membership, consumers will be concerned about how this will affect food and drink standards.
The local industry may well face stiffer competition from foreign producers, who work to different sets of rules.
All of this is still unclear, which makes the return of devolved government all the more important.
Then the industry will be able to speak directly to local ministers and have their concerns fed into the negotiations with the EU being conducted through Westminster.
But over the next four days the emphasis will be on providing visitors with a great experience. Go along and see what makes our agri-food business such a vital part of life here.