Come one, come all

The Royal Show is upon us once again. Around 150,000 people attended the show last year and this year's event, which takes place between 2-5 July, at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, is aiming for even more.

Among the attractions are the livestock and carcase shows, new farming technology exhibits and specialist food and drink trade stands. The Meat & Livestock Commission will be represented and industry organisations from around the UK will attend.

As well as the meat events, The Royal Show has a number of attractions for families interested in rural life, such as crafts, flower shows, 4X4 off-roading, and the popular Landrover rollercoaster.

The variety of attractions and prestige of the livestock and carcase awards are likely to make this year as popular as 2005. Show director, Nigel Hollick, emphasises the importance of the international aspect of the show for meat producers: "The Royal Show is the mid-summer show where all finished animals, lamb and beef, are on display," he says. "It's an international show, and an opportunity to show the best of British meat to traders. With the beef ban just lifted, the Royal Show is the place to show and trade."

Among the meat industry events this year is the new Better Returns Beef Focus. One of its purposes is to give information to producers who want to increase returns on their exports or enter the newly re-opened market. Since the ban was lifted, British beef exports have been strong, and this feature at the Royal Show, in association with the English Beef & Lamb Exectutive (EBLEX) is designed to give information from industry organisations such as Assured British Pigs (ABP) to those interested in making the most of the market.

The livestock competitions for cattle, sheep and pigs are also worth a look, because, as Debbie Dann, who organises all livestock events, says: "The chance to see pedigree stock is half of the story for those in the meat industry, and the beef carcases on show complete the process."

The prestige of the livestock awards are recognised industry-wide. For traders it is a chance to be see lots of top quality breeds, and the winners who may affect meat prices. Dann believes that the beef champions are especially highly prized. "To win a breed champion is one of the highest accolades. I haven't researched it scientifically but show winners do fetch higher prices," she says.

The prime lamb 'hoof & hook' competition is one of the most popular livestock competitions. Groups of three lambs are judged live on the Sunday, sent to slaughter Sunday night, and judged as carcases the next day. Points are awarded for the best live lambs and the best carcases. However, the overall winner is weighted in favour of the best carcases. Dann believes the Royal Show is an important event for those in the meat industry, and one that is justly popular.

There will also be butchery demonstrations, and the best of British meat sold in the food halls. As of June 14, trade stands are still available, details of which can be found on www.royalshow.org.uk

Beefing up returns

New for this year is the Better Returns Beef Focus, which will give those in the meat industry information and advice about making the most of the newly reopened export markets. In partnership with EBLEX and sponsored by Merial, Keenan Rumans and ABP, industry organisations will be on hand and live cattle demonstrations will give beef producers the chance to see and feel what the market is after.

Clive Brown, EBLEX regional manager, believes this is a good opportunity for people in the industry. "We want beef producers to get some real practical, hands-on guidance about how they can get the very best returns from the export market.

"There will be some excellent graphics showing how the various levels of finish can be assessed so that when we talk about a market taking U+ or R classification cattle the producer can actually relate that to his own cattle and select accordingly," he says.

Cull cattle market opportunities and selection for cull cattle are also themes of the Focus, as well as a producer selection competition, all of which will be backed up with live cattle demonstrations.

The event will provide a good opportunity for farmers to brush up on Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and explore how to recapture the £675m beef export market.

Adjacent to the main cattle-showing ring, the Beef Focus feature will be close to trade stands hosted by processors and breed societies. And there is more help and impartial advice at the Livestock Export Centre, in association with DEFRA and the Meat & Livestock Commission.

"There is no better place or time than this year's Royal Show to find out exactly how you can really benefit from this exciting new export opportunity," says agricultural content co-ordinator Ben Stanley. "The Royal Show has a great reputation as the shop window for the best of British livestock and no other UK event offers a better showcase for the cattle industry."

Meaty delights in the food hall

The best of British bangers, beef and ostrich burgers and hand-reared meat will be available to hungry visitors of the Royal Show in the food hall. This is in response to the growing consumer demand for good quality, traceable meat.

For the first time in its 167-year history, the show will be ensuring all its catering outlets offer visitors the opportunities to savour and sample regionally-produced British food and wine. Catering manager Steve Collins, who has sourced the British food and drink producers for more than 30 catering units, says: "Buying British is high on consumers' agenda. People are becoming increasingly interested in how and where the food they eat is produced and want to buy local and regionally-made foods. We are going further than ever before to meet that demand at this year's show."

One competition will ask children and families to guess how many miles food has had to travel before ending up on their plates. It is part of the drive to promote British food, cut food miles and lessen environmental impact.

Celebrity chef Rachel Green will be cooking in the Lincolnshire Pavilion while Waitrose, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's will be among a number of major food retailers profiling the role of British producers on their stands.

Real meat at the Royal Show

Gerald David has seen his business grow enormously since he starting attending the Royal Show around twelve years ago. "Shows are a phenomenal way to promote the business," says David. "Customers go wild for what I call real meat. None of your pre-packaged stuff. I have seen my mail order business go from zilch to 3,600 customers. We put literature in the bags of every customer at the show and then they order with us. We have customers all over the UK, from the West Country to Scotland."

But David warns against taking your business to the Royal Show unprepared. It can be very hard work: "If you want to do a show you have to have a tremendous family and staff. It's solid for twelve to fifteen hours a day. There's no chance for a cuppa or a break, or a cigarette if you smoke. You need someone just refilling the cabinet and someone just taking credit cards. You can't waste time having butchers taking the money."

David is planning on shifting an enormous amount of meat at this year's show and has had to make special arrangements to get it all there. "We already own big lorries, but for the Royal we're hiring a 40-tonne articulated lorry. We're expecting to sell 26-30 cattle, 130-150 lambs and some pigs and chickens too. I used to expect people to just buy enough for their dinner, but I've got used to people buying enormous amounts of meat, and even buying meat in advance for their Christmas dinner. Our biggest ever order at a show, just for an ordinary family, was £2,000. It's absolutely amazing. And people often spend £200, £300 and even £500.