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Cancellation of Balmoral Show 'blow to economy and morale of agri-food sector'


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A packed Balmoral Show last year

A packed Balmoral Show last year

A packed Balmoral Show last year

The local economy is facing a further £6m hit following the cancellation of the Balmoral Show as the coronavirus crisis continues, an expert has warned.

And Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the University of Ulster, said the loss of the "feelgood factor" the show brings could be even more devastating at a time when the agri-food industry was already coming to terms with the fallout from Brexit.

This year's show had been postponed from its original May dates until August, but the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) announced the complete cancellation on Monday.

It follows the cancellation of other money-spinning events including the North West 200, which itself is estimated will cost over £12m in economic terms.

Organisers of the Balmoral Show, which moved to its new base at Balmoral Park outside Lisburn in 2013, said they did not make the decision to cancel this year's event lightly.

But they added that it was clear they did not have any alternative.

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Dr Alan Crowe of RUAS

Dr Alan Crowe of RUAS

Dr Alan Crowe of RUAS

"It is with deep regret that the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society has taken the decision to cancel the 2020 Balmoral Show, scheduled to take place from Wednesday, August 18 to Saturday, August 22," Dr Alan Crowe, RUAS chief executive, said.

With many local farmers, businesses and visitors facing financial uncertainty at present, we feel that everything is stacked against us in trying to run a show in August Dr Alan Crowe, RUAS chief executive

"Please be assured that we did not come to this decision lightly.

"However, after several meetings and the exploration of all alternative options, it became clear that we would have been unable to run the 2020 show on the rearranged August dates during these unprecedented times."

Dr Crowe said organisers understand the cancellation will be "disappointing" for many but that because the Covid-19 pandemic endures, organisers had an obligation to protect the health and wellbeing of the 120,000 people due to attend the event.

"We are aware of the time, money and hard work put into attending the show by livestock exhibitors, competitors, sponsors, trade stands and suppliers," Dr Crowe added.

With many local farmers, businesses and visitors facing financial uncertainty at present, we feel that everything is stacked against us in trying to run a show in August.

"Moving forward, the RUAS will continue to take great pride in supporting and showcasing our local farming community and we plan to return next year stronger than ever."

Thousands of tickets for this year's event had already been sold, and organisers are asking for patience as the RUAS works through the cancellation plans.

"We would kindly ask for your patience and understanding as the team works through cancellation plans, including the refund of tickets and trade stands. All tickets purchased for the 2020 Balmoral Show will receive a full refund."

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Dr Esmond Birnie

Dr Esmond Birnie

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Dr Esmond Birnie

Dr Birnie said that while there is a monetary value from the show's cancellation, he added that one cannot put a price on the loss of an event that is such a "morale booster" for the sector.

"We don't know how many of the 120,000 expected were from outside Northern Ireland - they would tend to spend more per head, including overnight stays - and how many were local, where at least some of the spending will probably end up being spent on something else within Northern Ireland once the lockdown is over.

"But importantly, in 2017 it was reckoned that the international PR generated alone was worth £1m to the agri-food sector.

"And you can't put a cash value on the morale booster aspect of the show.

"Agri-food is a sector which is being particularly challenged by the disruptive effect of the virus. There were already the long-term doubts and questions arising from the impact of Brexit on trade and agricultural subsidies, so a little bit of good news would have been helpful."

The 152nd Balmoral Show in partnership with Ulster Bank will now take place in 2021 from Wednesday, May 12 to Saturday, May 15.

The show was previously cancelled in 2001 due to foot and mouth disease, and was suspended from 1939-45 during the Second World War.

Belfast Telegraph