Allister Nixon is the man at the helm of The Yorkshire Agricultural Society, the organisers behind the Great Yorkshire Show. Holly Phillips discovers what the role means and what to look out for at this year’s show
I understand you swapped city life for the countryside, so what’s your favourite part about this?
I’ve always had a great affinity for the outdoors and I’ve always enjoyed feeling connected with nature and the environment. I love the colours that the countryside provides, the big open skies. Probably the most important thing for me is that life in the countryside has a sort of grounding feeling and that also energises me. I love the sense of community spirit that comes with rural life. The whole family moved out eight years ago and they’re loving every minute of it.
What three things do you love most about Yorkshire?
I’ve got two dogs, so, as I say, the countryside is a big draw here. From the Yorkshire Dales to the North York Moors and my favourite area, the Yorkshire coastline, which is absolutely stunning. Secondly, I’d say that Yorkshire is so accessible, we have everything we need living here. From the fantastic countryside, we’ve got great access to culture, sports and activities, to shopping. It really doesn’t take long to travel from one place to another to enjoy it all, which is just fantastic. Thirdly, I’d have to say the people, especially in our little local village where we have developed some really nice friendships with a group of really nice people.
What does a typical day in your life as CEO of The Yorkshire Agricultural Society look like?
Oh gosh. There’s no such thing as a typical day. That’s part of what attracted me to the role is that everyday is extremely varied. One moment, I’m looking at improvements to the showground, the next I might be focusing on commercial and legal aspects. Then there’s the management of this hugely passionate and professional dedicated team that we have here. There’s also working on our charitable objectives and with our farming networks to deliver those objectives and to champion and support agriculture and farming families. So it really is varied, no two days are the same.
What were you most excited about upon starting your role as CEO?
I’ve reached a time in my life and career where essentially the value I create for an organisation needs to be for, what I call, the greater good, rather than just about shareholder value. And the society being a charity, where they invest half a million pounds a year to support agriculture, really ticked that box for me. This combined with the sheer richness and variety of the role, is what really attracted me to the role.
What newness did you want to bring to the Great Yorkshire Show?
This year is the 164th Great Yorkshire Show, so it has fantastic history and tradition behind it. At its core, it’s an agricultural show, so it’s the treasure of Yorkshire. I really don’t want to do anything to jeopardise that. But what we do need to do is constantly look at ways to keep evolving the show so it remains fresh, exciting and interesting for our visitors, and relevant to our farming families. The sheep dog trials are a perfect example of this. We showcased them in the main ring last year and that was so well received that we are looking to have it as a permanent feature of the show this year. We’ve also brought back pole climbing, which is a fantastic spectacle that’s been absent for a couple of years. New to the show, we’ve got a ‘Sheep to Chic’ fashion show to celebrate sheep farming and the versatility of British wool. We’ve also got a new innovation zone at the show that demonstrates today’s higher tech approach to British farming and has displays and talks about the latest agricultural innovations. So it’s really about keeping the show fresh and interesting without losing its tradition and its agricultural core.
Why is the show so important for Yorkshire?
First off, this show is a celebration for Yorkshire. It promotes farming, food and rural life in the county and is a place where families can have a fun, interesting and informative day. There’s something for everything here at the show. In 2019, we did an economic impact survey of the show, which demonstrated that the Great Yorkshire Show contributed £40m of the Yorkshire economy. For me, the real value of the show goes both beyond the pure finances and numbers. It has a great importance for me because it acts as a fantastic facilitator. By that I mean the show provides opportunities for farming communities to come together. There are so many touch points during the four days of the show, and it offers great support to farmers all in one place. The show’s profile also enables it to bring together industry decision makers, agriculture groups, government ministers, MPs, local officials, and faith leaders. The show provides an environment for valuable connections between stakeholders, the public and the rural community.
What can people expect to see from the Great Yorkshire Show this year?
Where to start! The Great Yorkshire Show is one of the premier agricultural shows in the country, so we will be having the best of cattle, livestock, sheep, pigs and goats from across the UK. We’ve got entries from Dundee to Dorset. We have three cattle breeds holding the national championships at the show. You’ll see thousands of equines together with their owners and riders competing in the showground over the four days. We have the prestigious Cock O’The North competition on Thursday, where some of the best show jumpers in the country compete. Our main ring performer this year is Lorenzo, who is an incredible horseman and who is a huge hit with the visitors. We’ve got a new dedicated area for the sheepdogs. We’ve got a new innovation area, which, as I’ve said, promotes the latest in technology and farming machinery. We’ve got our new ‘Sheep to Chic’ fashion show. We’ve got our celebrities, Adam Henson, Peter Wright and Matt Baker. And, as I’ve said previously, we’ve got our forestry area and our pole climbing which is fantastic and fun for our visitors.
How does the Yorkshire Agricultural Society strive to inspire the next generation about British agriculture?
Well we do a lot in this space because that’s one of the objectives of the society. We try to engage children at a young age. We have a Springtime Live event that’s in April, which hopefully engages the curiosity of our youngest visitors. We try to immerse them in all things farming, food and countryside. Coming up in June, we are going to welcome around 6,000 primary school children to the showground, to our Countryside Days event which is over two days. We have our education discovery zone at the show. We run an Apple Day event at the showground in Autumn. Where possible, we are out and about supporting schools and careers fairs. We try to support the next generation of farmers through our future farmer network, which offers a tremendous opportunity to bring all people in farming together through a social and knowledge exchange event and we provide training and bursary opportunities through that network.
What’s your favourite part of the Great Yorkshire Show?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite of mine. I loved the sheepdog trials last year, with the man and dog partnership. But there really is so much to enjoy, it’s hard to pick out specific highlights. We have morning prayers at the showground before the show opens, I find it to be quite a magical moment. It’s a moment of calm and tranquillity before the showground bursts into life. But for me, it’s not about the individual things, it’s about how everything comes together from the livestock rings to the machinery, to the food hall, to the events in the main ring. Just seeing it all come together and so many happy faces among our visitors.
Finally, what does the rest of 2023 have in store?
The showground and the society are busy all year round. We’ve got our award-winning facilities (Great Holiday Home Show, Yorkshire Event Centre, Harrogate Caravan Park, for example), so all of these are very busy throughout the year. The next event we’ve got at the showground is the Great Holiday Home Show, which is in September and is set to celebrate the very best of the great outdoors. This is a show that’s been running since 1976 at The Lawns in Hull, which has moved to the showground this year, so it’s got quite a bit of history. It’s really another great family day out. Then, of course, the society works all year round to deliver its objectives and to support and promote agriculture. We have, in autumn, a Women in Farming network, which will host its 10th anniversary gathering. Our future farmers will have an event. We offer teaching training courses now after the show. So there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of activity throughout the year.
The Great Yorkshire Show runs from 11-14 July – see more at greatyorkshireshow.co.uk