This week’s Balmoral Show, which runs until Saturday, is the first significant agricultural show on the island of Ireland in 2024.

The venue is the old Maze prison site, just off the M1 motorway, with exceptional car parking on a large site, making it accessible to farmers and consumer visitors from across the island of Ireland.

In an era where opinion is shaped by what happens on social media, these occasions are an ideal opportunity for interaction between farmers, processors, retailers and perhaps the most important people in the chain, consumers.

There are multiple prizes to be won in the show arena and showjumping competitions, plus numerous novelty events. Something for everyone may be a promotional cliché, but is very relevant for this event.

IFJ KPMG launch

When it comes to informing, the breakfast event to launch the Agribusiness Report, produced in partnership with KPMG, hit the spot.

Over two hours on Thursday morning, guests were treated to a well-informed debate on a multitude of issues facing farmers and the wider agri-food processing industry.

The first panel of report editor Lorcan Roche Kelly and Gary Borland from KPMG debated the report, chaired by Irish Farmers Journal editor Jack Kennedy.

Of all the points made, the fact that anaerobic digestion is a real alternative land use, but needs huge financial investment and the best farmland, suggests that it is one for the medium- to long-term future.

The issues of immediate concern were addressed by the second panel of CEO commodity trading division at WR Barnett Claudine Herron; head of corporate affairs at Asda NI Joe McDonald; and Lakeland Dairies CEO Colin Kelly.

Again, chaired by Jack Kennedy, the panel wrestled with the dilemma of delivering food to consumers at an affordable price while returning a price to farmers that makes production sustainable.

Adding the third element of reducing emissions and managing environmental impact in the process captured neatly the problem the industry faces and it was clear from the discussion that there are no easy solutions.

Perhaps the most memorable and positive contribution to the debate came from Joe McDonald, when he told the gathering that when the good weather finally arrived last weekend, Asda had its third-best day ever for burger sales.

Wider role of Balmoral Show

Farmers have come through an exceptionally difficult spring due to unseasonal weather, but it has improved over the last couple of weeks.

When the weather is fine and markets reasonable, farming is a fantastic career for those who don’t mind the 24/7 commitment, even if the commute to work is short.

However, the downside is that it is an isolated profession and that is another reason why occasions such as agricultural shows - along with marts - are much more than a commercial experience, they provide an informal opportunity to socialise as well.

Balmoral Show is also the occasion when agriculture attracts mainstream media coverage in much the same way that the Ploughing dominates national airwaves for a few days in September every year.

This presents an opportunity to showcase all that is positive about the industry and, in general, it succeeds.

It is also an opportunity for all involved in the sector to take stock and share experiences in person as opposed to the ubiquitous WhatsApp or other social media platform.

There is no doubt that social media has transformed communication opportunities and given a platform for everyone to either start or participate in a debate on any topic.

This should be a positive development for society in general, but, unfortunately, social media platforms are all too oven used for negative and even misleading purposes.

It is doubtful if farming or indeed the wider agri-food industry can ever get a handle on bringing balance to the debate on social media or indeed if anyone can, regulators included.

What farmers and the wider sector can do is make use of the platforms such as Balmoral Show to engage with fellow farmers and the wider chain right through to consumers in meaningful face-to-face manner.

This has been happening at Balmoral this week and will continue at shows across the island of Ireland in the coming weeks and over the summer months.

They should be attended by anyone with even a passing interest in how the sector works and are essential for farmers.

The show continues on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 May at Balmoral Park, Lisburn, Co Antrim.