Balmoral Show beckons as key date for agri-food sector
With the clocks springing forward and days getting longer, there's an important date on the horizon for anyone connected with Northern Ireland's agri-food industry.
No, it's not April 12 or even May 22 - I'm instead talking about May 15 when the gates will open to the 151st Balmoral Show in partnership with Ulster Bank. Having attended the official show launch organised by RUAS at Balmoral Park last week, I came away with a renewed sense of optimism about the current state of the sector.
Of course there are worries and as the latest Brexit developments seem to bring more confusion than clarity, fears over jobs and security are running deep.
Without wishing to whitewash these very genuine concerns, I was struck by how positive a gathering of agri-businesses and food and drink companies could be, in spite of all the challenges brought upon the industry by Brexit.
This is what is so unique about the Balmoral Show. It perfectly encapsulates all that is good about our food and farming sectors and when the sun is shining, there's no better place to be.
In recent years, the focus of food and drink throughout the four days of the show has grown enormously, and this is largely down to the hard work of Food NI.
Each year thousands of visitors flock to the food pavilion where the innovation and quality of our food producers and manufacturers is laid out for all to taste and enjoy.
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Walking through this space during the show, it's clear to see why Northern Ireland has become a veritable food destination and as a bank, we are committed to supporting such a fundamentally important sector.
Whether you are at the beginning of your business journey, bringing a new product to market such as the team behind Wolf and Woodsman crisps or, an established business serving up traditional fayre like the Morton family, we have the right people and expertise to help your business grow in a way that is right for you.
Ulster Bank will once again have a very strong presence at the show and as we approach our 10th year as principal sponsor, I am proud that we will be showcasing our pride in our customers' will once again take centre stage.
We know we only succeed when our customers do and so are determined to embrace change with the same resilience and desire to improve as they do.
It's difficult to predict what the political climate will look like come May 15 and nigh on impossible to imagine how this will affect our leading food businesses.
One thing I can say with absolute certainty though is that our food manufactures, producers and sellers will be putting their best foot forward exhibiting at the show and clearly demonstrating why they are world-leading.
I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say I am looking forward to another successful Balmoral Show in 2019 and meeting and engaging with even more emerging businesses whose products will continue to elevate Northern Ireland's status as a centre for food and drink excellence.
Nigel Walsh is director of corporate and commercial banking at Ulster Bank. Balmoral Show 2019 takes place at Balmoral Park outside Lisburn from May 15 to May 18