THE stories of the delays were legion. Hours spent queuing to get into the sprawling 700-acre site, and then hours sitting waiting to be towed back out of the bogged fields just outside of New Ross.
But the determined would not be put off. The first farmer to greet me at the Farming Independent stand had made it all the way from the Sheep’s Head peninsula to Heathpark by 8am. “We left at 3.30am this morning,” he nodded reassuringly to my disbelieving face. “That’s the way we always do it. Even when there’s a march up in Dublin, we’d always be up there before even the organisers would be around,” he said.
The combination of poor weather and traffic problems has dampened crowds significantly at this year’s event. But the follow-up act to the festival’s home for the last three years at Athy was always going to have a tough job measuring up. The Kildare location was blessed with good weather and superb surrounding roads that allowed the National Ploughing Association’s coffers to ring loudly with the receipts from record attendances of over 180,000.
And despite the grumbling, farmers know deep down that occasionally inclement weather and provincial locations are all part and parcel of the Ploughing Championship experience.
In a way it mirrored their reflections on the difficult year that 2012 has turned out to be. Yes, the grain harvest was disappointing, silage quality is poor and feed prices have escalated to record levels. The IFA has totted up the cost of one of the worst summers on record to be close to €400m.
But in their heart of hearts, farmers know that it could be a lot worse. Comparisons with last year are misleading in that 2011 proved to be one of the best years ever for growth, crop quality and ease of harvest.
Prices were not bad either, and these have by-and-large lasted into 2012. In fact, grain prices reached record setting territory again this year and will, for many, compensate for the drop in average yields.
And as world population continues to surge beyond the 7bn mark, and demand grows for meat and milk, farmers know that theirs is anything but the sunset industry it was touted as a few short years ago.
So while there was plenty of muck in New Ross this year, the misery was absent. And God knows, if farmers can’t deal with a bit of muck, who can?
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