Michele Shirlow for Farm Week April 2018

The 150th Royal Ulster Agricultural Society Show at Balmoral Park, near Lisburn, is set to be the biggest ever. It was fantastic to hear plans from the RUAS and the shows principal sponsor, Ulster Bank, outlining plans for what has become the biggest show of its type on the island of Ireland and one of the most comprehensive in the UK at last week’s launch. It certainly is a central pillar in our food and drink calendar having grown from a handful of local food and drink exhibitors to the showcase it is now of everything that is good about Northern Irish food and drink.

The four-day event is easily the biggest and most exciting in the Food NI programme, and we are determined to ensure the hugely popular Food Pavilion breaks all previous records.

While we’ve been planning for this year’s show since last May, for the past few months our preparations have really kicked off to a much higher level. We are working to ensure that last year’s records are exceeded when the event opens next month. Balmoral really is a tremendous opportunity for smaller companies to market their produce to thousands of visitors.

This year we have a strong seafood presence and some exciting new export product launches planned. We are also working closely with local councils to showcase their support for local food and drink companies and there is an emphasis on sustainability via our link with Natural World Products who are aiming to get their recycling message across about how food waste is recycled to become high quality compost for the farming industry, a great example of a circular economy.

We are also planning a busier than ever programme of cookery demonstrations and tastings, particularly from leading chefs from the Heartland of Food initiative led by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council. The Food Heartland Tasting theatre will showcase local chefs and producers, food tours and experiences, links with Young Farmers Clubs and local farmers and bakers showcasing the Armagh Bramley Apple.

We were delighted to host a visit last year from celebrated chef Jean Christophe Novelli, and many of the smaller companies which met him in our Food Pavilion are now listed to supply his high-end restaurant in the new AC Marriott Hotel on City Quays. It promises to be an exciting addition to the city’s culinary scene.

And we’ll also be hosting a high-profile group of influential food writers from Britain to the event. We will be showing them the very best of food and drink, especially from smaller companies, and providing opportunities to them to sample the products on show. Indeed, all visitors to our stand will be able to sample some of the best known local products and the very many innovative developments.

This is part of our ongoing commitment to raise the awareness among local consumers of the variety, excellence and safety of our food and drink.

The 2018 Show will feature more than 650 trade stands, the NI Food Pavilion featuring the best of local food and drink producers, hundreds of competitions and classes, and a wide range of family entertainment and attractions.

Balmoral is certainly the high point of our year. Our experience in creating and organising one of the show’s most popular attractions has benefited us enormously in our drive to promote our excellent food and drink particularly in Great Britain, Northern Ireland’s biggest single market. This is why it’s crucially important then that whatever the Brexit outcome our access to the marketplace in Britain must not be undermined.

The RUAS is investing to ensure continuing success of the show and has extended its footprint and revamped exhibition space.

To mark its 150th year, a special anniversary marquee will host an exhibition of photography, souvenirs and artefacts from a bygone era of agriculture and farming in Northern Ireland taking visitors through the years of RUAS. The 2018 Balmoral Show runs from Wednesday, May 16 until Saturday, May 19.