The most successful National Ploughing Championships has recorded the highest attendance in its 80-year history. 190,000 people visited Athy over the three days of the event between last Tuesday and Thursday, September 20 - 22, with a resulting E15 million boost to the local economy.
Anna May McHugh, the managing director of the National Ploughing Association, said the championships had been boosted by a fine harvest, improved prices for farm produce and the general air of optimism that now surrounded agriculture.
She said there had been growth in all areas that made up the championships and she noted the growth in the number of colleges and schools coming to the event.
President Mary McAleese and her husband, Senator Martin McAleese, were among the huge crowd. She opened the event and described agriculture as the star of Ireland’s economy in these tough times. All five declared candidates in presidency race were in Athy for the event.
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Simon Coveney, attended all three days of the Championships.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny added to the general feeling of goodwill when he pledged the Government’s support for the sector, which he described as being central to the economic recovery of the country.
He said the Championships were an outstanding success and, with the growth in income and export potential now being realised by the agri-sector, there was generally a mood of confidence here.
“I recognise the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead both for our European members of parliament and our Government in reforms which must come to the CAP, the abolition of quotas, the Mercosur discussions and so on, which will have to take place.
“But for this year, 2011, the agri-sector is a very important fundamental part of Ireland’s recovery pattern on export-led growth in the agri-sector.
“It is great to see the young people here and showing an interest in agriculture because these young people are our future and they can see here, all in one place, what Irish agriculture is all about.”
The only negative news was that Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, was being required by the Government to reduce its staffing levels by 240 by the end of 2014 and negotiations with unions and staff, some based in Naas, is still ongoing.