Coronavirus: Show cancellations will have a lasting impact on rural economy

The 2020 Royal Norfolk Show is one of many rural events to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pande

The 2020 Royal Norfolk Show is one of many rural events to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The coronavirus pandemic has ripped up East Anglia’s countryside calender, cancelling events including the Royal Norfolk Show – and the impact on our rural economy could be felt for “a long time to come”.

During the last week, many other outdoor events have also been called off as a result of the “social distancing” measures implemented by the government in a bid to contain the outbreak.

They include the Suffolk Show on May 27-28, the Wayland Agricultural Show in Watton on May 3, the East Anglian Game and Country Fair at the Euston Estate on April 25-26, the Norfolk Spring Fling on April 16 and Open Farm Sunday, which has been postponed from June 7 until September 20.

After announcing the cancellation of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association’s (RNAA’s) flagship event on July 1-2, chief executive Greg Smith said the widespread loss of agricultural shows and country fairs this spring and summer would have an “inestimable effect” on the rural economy – from the livestock farmers who have spent months preparing for shows to the hundreds of small, independent food and drinks producers who rely on these events to promote and sell their produce.

“I feel for those people and the predicament they are now confronting – the enormity of the issues is impossible to understand,” he said.

Those concerns were shared by rural business leaders across the region.

Rachel Carrington, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), added: “No one can argue that cancellation isn’t the right decision – public safety has to come first – but the consequences could be felt for a long time to come.

“These shows and events fulfil such a vital role, particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk. They bring rural communities together, showcase East Anglia’s agricultural sector to a wider audience and collectively make a significant contribution to the rural economy. In particular, these blanket cancellations will be a blow for smaller food and drink producers, who rely on events such as agricultural shows and food fairs for their livelihoods. These events give them profile as well as generating income.

READ MORE: Royal Norfolk Show cancelled amid coronavirus crisis“The NFU will be working on behalf of members affected by this, lobbying to ensure there is help and support available in the challenging months ahead.”

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Hoveton farmer Nick Deane, who is the NFU’s Norfolk county chairman, added: “It [the Royal Norfolk Show] is the showpiece for agriculture in the county and it will be sorely missed this year. As well as promoting the very best of Norfolk food and farming, it’s a hugely important event in farmers’ social calendars and it’s something I always love to attend.

“However, everyone will understand, and support, the decision to postpone the show – it’s a sensible precaution in these difficult times.”

Cath Crowther, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: “It is extremely disappointing to the hear that the Royal Norfolk Show will not be going ahead this year but given the current circumstances the organisers had little choice.

“The show is a real celebration of rural life and is a crucial date in the calendar for farmers and rural businesses in the county and region.

“Importantly, it is also a vital trading opportunity for so many small and medium sized rural businesses, providing them with a platform to showcase their products and services to tens of thousands of people. This will be greatly missed.

“The rural sector is exceptionally resilient however, having faced more than its share of adversity in the past. I have every confidence the Royal Norfolk Show will bounce back next year and we can’t wait to be part of it once again.”

Another cancellation this week was an international event which was seen as a “huge honour” for Norfolk’s agricultural community. This year’s Commonwealth Agriculture Conference, run by the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC), was scheduled to take place at the University of East Anglia in July, and was due to include a day at the Royal Norfolk Show.

Lord Vestey is chairman of the RASC, whose members include some of the biggest agricultural associations and show societies in the world. He said: “As the current global crisis unfolds, many long-established and famous annual agricultural shows and fairs are being cancelled. The impact on the agricultural industry will be widely felt.”

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