The Royal Highland Show and its organisers the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland are well accustomed to handing out awards to prize winning livestock, food and drink products and innovative farm equipment.
But as the 2012 event approaches, the show itself has been on the receiving end. It was voted the best agricultural show in the UK by readers of a national farming magazine and in March it won a second top award - the Best Event in Scotland.
The latter was awarded by the National Outdoor Event Association, the trade organisation which was established in 1979 to represent and promote the outdoor events industry.
The award was picked up at the NOEA annual convention in Birmingham by Show Manager David Dunsmuir who commented:
“It is an honour to be recognised by our peers and demonstrates that we are major players in the event industry. With the award coming only a few weeks after the magazine award, 2012 has got off to a great start for the show."
Dunsmuir expects that when visitors arrive at the Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston from Thursday June 21 to Sunday, June 24 they will find "once again one of the best events in Scotland.”
Visitor numbers in recent years indicate that David Dunsmuir and his show management team have already earned a resounding endorsement from the farming and general public. The last two attendances have broken through the 180,000 mark, with a record in 2010 of 187,644.
He is reluctant to forecast figures and go after even more records, David is quietly confident about 2012, but far from complacent.
“We realise we are competing for a share of the public’s hard-earned cash and we need to offer value for money,” he said.
“The task for our team is to lay on an event that has enough serious agricultural content to hold the interest of the farming community and agri-business trade but to lay on plenty of other attractions to keep the crowds entertained.
“It is part of our charitable remit to promote the industry and that’s why we put so much emphasis on our livestock and machinery displays and our educational features, particularly for youngsters. But included in the balancing act is a vast array of countryside activity, shopping, music and sporting action.”
One of the highlights of 2012 will be the President’s Initiative from Dumfries & Galloway, the region where the show would have been staged had it still been touring the country.
“Naturally Inspiring” is the theme to encourage visitors to explore the sights, the flavours and the experiences to be had in Scotland’s South West.
RHASS President Alex Fergusson explained: “Most people already know the region as a beautifully scenic area, but we wanted to highlight the many interesting, adventurous, delicious, exciting and enjoyable experiences that can be had here.”
The initiative has three main strands. Many of the key events at the show will have Dumfries & Galloway produce on the menu.
In the Food Hall, one of the show’s top attractions with almost 100 exhibitors and a daily programme in the Scotland Food & Drink Cookery Theatre, the region will showcase artisan food and drink producers.
In the Countryside Area, a “village” will include adventure activities, wildlife and countryside, story-telling, the cultural and arts scene, garden displays and local food.
For many though, the “Highland’s” big attraction is the livestock – more than 5000 head of the finest cattle, sheep, goats and horses, not to mention poultry.
In the cattle lines, much of the focus will be on a breed that was first imported from France in the 1960s. The Charolais is now part of the “beef establishment” in the UK and the World Charolais Congress is taking in the show as part of its 2012 itinerary. Reflecting the international flavour, the breed classes will be judged by Australian David Bondfield who will select the females, with the bulls in the hands of Irishman Basil Bothwell from County Cavan.
To encourage youngsters to get involved in livestock showing, there are already young handlers and showmanship classes for dairy cattle, sheep and Clydesdale horses. This year, the beef section has a class for 12-16 year olds to present an animal that will have been shown in the earlier main competitions.
The Royal Highland is the largest equestrian show in Scotland with classes for light and heavy horses, private driving, heavy horse turnouts, harness and grooming plus top class show-jumping - in all some 3000 horses and ponies.
Among the new classes is one for the Re-training of Racehorses which will be judged by one of Scotland’s top trainers, Lucinda Russell from Milnathort, who recently saddled a Cheltenham winner. The class demonstrates there is still an active life in showing and eventing for horses retired from the racing turf.
Natural horse power was once prevalent on Scottish farms but in modern agriculture it is very much the domain of high-powered tractors, sophisticated machinery and computerised equipment. All the latest developments for both the arable and livestock sectors, plus the winners of the RHASS Technical Innovation Awards, will be featured in a packed agricultural trade area. For the trade, the show is a genuine opportunity to network, meet potential customers, and most importantly, to secure business.
These days, with so much focus on climate change, carbon footprint and conservation, renewable energy is an expanding part of the trade lines with its own dedicated area offering advice and guidance on equipment and services.
Future generations should benefit from new energy sources and for today’s younger generation, the show is all about giving them a flavour of farming and food production and how it all fits into a living countryside. “A day in the life of...” will be the theme in the Dobbies Children’s Discovery Centre, run by the Royal Highland Education Trust. With free admission to the show for children under sixteen, RHET is expecting some 25,000 to descend on the Centre!
Once shopping, lifestyle, crafts, countryside activities, rural skills, outdoor living, honey, sheep shearing, forestry, motors and music are added to the mix, including a special show recording of Radio Scotland legend Robbie Shepherd’s “Take The Floor”, it’s perhaps understandable why so many have the show dates circled on the farm kitchen calendar or in their personal diaries.