Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Great success of Ploughing Championships down to one woman's vision

Darragh McCullagh

The Ploughing Championships are over for another year – and what a success the event has become. To marshal 220,000 people anywhere, let alone a field in the middle of nowhere, takes precision planning of the military kind. The Commander-in-Chief in this respect is Anna May McHugh (pictured). Since 1955 she has been working with the National Ploughing Association (NPA) as its secretary, taking over as managing director in 1973.

During her time, she has seen it grow from an event costing £2,300 a year to host to one that her daughter and assistant managing director, Anna Marie, now estimates to be costing closer to €400,000 annually.

In recent years, the NPA has handed over €150,000 annually simply for the garda presence directing traffic. The €500,000 spent on miles of trackway to help punters avoid the muck is set to increase by 30pc next year.

The 700-acre site costs well over six figures too, given that at least 125 acres is effectively decommissioned from farming for 12 months beforehand to prepare for the event.

"The hosts never get involved in this for the money, but we can't leave them out of pocket just because they've been good enough to give over their farm to the event for the year," said Anna Marie.

But with so many punters paying up to €20 a head to get in, the receipts add up nicely too. One of the 40 cashiers dotted around the periphery of the site told me how he took in €29,500 in just over three hours. "I didn't look up for three hours," he said.

Last year the turnover for the NPA was €3,954,941, with an attendance of about 187,500. On the basis that they got in an extra 32,500 this year, it's likely that there's another €500,000 headed for the already swollen coffers of the NPA.

It's not just ticket sales. While exhibitors may invest up to €100,000 in their stands, they also pay a fee simply to be there. Ms McHugh claims that the fees haven't increased in over eight years. But at €142 per metre, and 1,400 exhibitors spread over 125 acres, they all add up.

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You can be sure that the 35 catering units also pay their way. A chip van would often hand over €1,000 per day. While Anna May has issued strict instructions as to what are the maximum prices any of the caterers at the event charge, her legendary bargaining ability also ensures that the NPA makes the most of having the units on site.

By January 31, 2013, the accumulated surplus for the organisation was €9,958,191. That amount has grown anywhere between €400,000 and €800,000 over the last number of years.

"We have to have a contingency fund to carry us through at least two years in case something like foot and mouth disease struck," says Ms McHugh.

Part of the success of the event is down to the huge voluntary effort of NPA personnel – ploughmen and women from all parts of the country that adjudicate, make tea, direct cars and put up signs at qualifiers all over the country throughout the year. The three-day championships is really only the end of a year's work for these folk.

Anna May and her daughter Anna Marie also work year round, but they pull in nearly €200,000 a year between them for their efforts.

But it's hard to begrudge them a cent. A UCD study concluded that the event was worth close to €34m for the local economy. No wonder Anna May was voted Veuve Clicquot business woman of the year.

Irish Independent

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