Raindrops keep falling but the crowds still turn out
Published 28/09/2012 | 05:00
THE National Ploughing Championships attracted a near-record crowd of more than 187,000 people despite bad weather and traffic problems.
A crowd of 64,000 people attended the final day of the event at Heathpark, near New Ross, Co Wexford, meaning the total was not far behind last year's tally of 190,000 in Athy, which was the highest ever seen for the three-day event.
However, unusually, organisers refused to say if the event would return to the same site next year after persistent traffic problems caused lengthy delays for many.
Spokeswoman Anna Marie McHugh said that although they sometimes announced the next year's venue at the closing of the championships, this was not always the case.
She said there were two or three other locations also under consideration for next year and they would make a final decision in the next two months.
Ms McHugh apologised to anyone who got caught up in severe traffic delays during the event but said everyone had done their utmost to keep the event going and carparks open after heavy rain the first two days.
Despite huge delays getting out of carparks, park and ride was not a workable option to ease congestion as it had been trialled for three years at Athy and not a single bus was used, she said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited yesterday and praised the ploughing as "an extraordinary event".
"This traces the evolution of agriculture over the years here, and from the humble one-furrow plough to the combine selling at almost half a million, it shows you the scale and the change of the agri-sector over the years," he said.
Agriculture and expanding food and drink exports were an important part of the Government's programme in the time ahead, he added.
The challenge for Ireland would be in the scale of EU funding for agriculture in the budget for 2014 to 2020 and protecting the Irish share of that, he said.
Mr Kenny also praised the diligence and commitment of RTE agriculture correspondent Joe O'Brien, who is taking early retirement after covering farming for 24 years.
Visitors to the event yesterday enjoyed fine weather, and traffic congestion was not as bad as previous days.
The Irish Farmers' Association, meanwhile, appealed for grain merchants to show flexibility in dealing with farmers whose yields are way down due to the washout summer.
Grain farmers who hedged their bets this year by advance-selling their crop have been hit by reduced yields, which mean they can't supply the full contracted amounts.
After an exceptionally bad summer, wheat yields are half what they were last year in some areas, so the IFA called on merchants to allow them make up the shortfall next year.