Balmoral Show: Belfast pupils collect unusual but moo-ving spot prize
Students from a Belfast grammar school travelled to the Balmoral Show yesterday to collect an unusual competition prize - five Aberdeen Angus-cross calves.
But the calves won't be grazing the turf in the grounds of Belfast Royal Academy; instead, they will be cared for at the Stewartstown farm of biology teacher Andrew Bell.
The five students were among 16 pupils from across Northern Ireland who have been presented with calves by processing firm ABP at the Balmoral Show.
The pupils, from four schools in Northern Ireland, will now rear the calves as part of the final stage of an agri-food skills competition for young people, the ABP Angus Youth Challenge.
The farm-to-fork project will see the pupils rear the calves through to finishing and then sell them back to ABP, sharing the net profit among the group. Each group has also been assigned a special project to develop over the next 18 months, exploring innovative proposals for the benefit of future meat production in Northern Ireland.
Mr Bell explained why he entered Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) into the competition, even though none of the team has a farming background.
"I decided it would be something interesting to apply for outside what we normally do," he said.
"Our pupils will come up to the farm to see how the calves are doing, and the calves will be brought down to the school at some point so the whole school can get involved.
"We are doing a project called City Farming where it tries to link investors from the city to farmers to help with their cash flow.
"Investors get a percentage increase in their investment and the farmers would get help with their cash flow."
BRA student Hannah Hill (16), who wants to train as a vet, said she thought it would be a good experience to get involved in the project. Four calves have been named after the school's houses, Shaw, Currie, Cairns and Pottinger, and the fifth has been named Crombie after the founder.
"We've been learning more about agriculture lately and the beef process, how important it is that the farm is financially supported through the process," she said.
Meanwhile, the Balmoral Show looks set to at least equal last year's visitor tally of 115,000 over the four days, according to the new Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) chief executive, Alan Crowe.
"The extra day worked so well last year that we continued to do it this year. We had over 115,000 last year and there is no reason to believe it's going to be any different this year," he said.
"It's like holding four Premier League matches over four days in a row. One of the things we are trying to do is to improve the road link to put the venue into the international dimension."
Mr Crowe said the new role of RUAS chief executive was like coming home. "I used to work with NFU Mutual in the 80s and 90s and I stood on one of the stands for several years on the old King's Hall site. I feel like I'm coming home and reacquainting myself with everything. I've come across so many people from the past, it's wonderful.
"I find it absolutely exhilarating. You feel the buzz that's going on around here - it's wonderful. It's a lovely feeling to see lots of families here. That is the next generation and they are not all from a rural background.
"Coming here feeds their interest in agriculture and exposes them to more career opportunities that perhaps they may not have considered," Mr Crowe added.