Suffolk Agricultural Association column: Looking forward to a better 2013

Executive director Christopher Bushby; Lord Deben; deputy show director 2013, Robert Baker; presiden

Executive director Christopher Bushby; Lord Deben; deputy show director 2013, Robert Baker; president-elect The Countess of Euston; chairman Stephen Fletcher ;president Stephen Cobbald, show director David Nunn. - Credit: Archant

Stephanie Renouf looks back on last Monday’s annual general meeting of the association, and forward to events later this year

more than 120 people attended the Association’s annual general meeting at Trinity Park this week to reflect briefly on the events of 2012 and to look forward to the plans for the 2013 Suffolk Show on May 29 and 30.

The meeting was chaired by outgoing President Lord Deben who praised the association for being a “remarkable” organisation, able to do its job equally well in good times as well as in adversity and an example of the “Big Society” at work.

He welcomed his successor, arable and sheep farmer Stephen Cobbald as its new president and The Countess of Euston as the president-elect. “The association needs different kinds of advocates and the best sort is the type of person that can talk about it from their own daily life,” he said, while recalling walking the sheep lines with Mr Cobbald during last year’s Suffolk Show. “He has knowledge and love, understanding and sympathy for his subject, an enormous encyclopaedic knowledge of sheep rearing and a real love of agriculture.”

Lord Deben said: “The Countess of Euston is genuinely omnipresent. Where she feels she can contribute, she says something and has always been willing to help.”

The countess recalled the first visit to the Suffolk Show when she was newly married. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Unashamedly I can say it is the best agricultural show in Britain, but it is so much more than that. It is an incredible institution, absolutely wonderful and I am so grateful for this opportunity,” she said.

Mr Cobbald has attended the show since he was 13 years old, stewarded for 35 years and has held various roles including deputy director twice, been a show committee and finance committee member and is a sponsor. He said the presidency was an honour that came ‘completely out of the blue.’ “This is the kind of thing that happens to other people. It is an honour to be doing something I feel passionate about and love doing,” he said.

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“The Suffolk Show is a wonderful institution. Its strength is its independence and it draws its support from so many places and people. I envisage it will play an even greater role in the future.”

Mr Cobbald, who describes himself as an arable farmer who keeps sheep, also successfully shows his sheep. He has 250 crossbred commercial sheep and 35 Texels, the latter mainly to graze the strips of land he cannot farm. He has successfully shown both breeds up and down the country. At nine years old his father bought him Suffolk sheep which he bred and showed for 50 years and is a former chairman and president of the Suffolk Sheep Society.

During the 1960s he was enrolled in an agricultural programme for European students in Minnesota University, and had the opportunity later to take 30 Suffolks to Moscow from Britain to attend a two week agricultural trade fair. Unfortunately he had to spend two months with the stock in quarantine having travelled with them in the snow across Russia!

He is a former rugby player for Bury St Edmunds, with 11 years in the front row, and when he stopped playing rugby, he trained as a runner and ran the London Marathon twice in just over three hours and the Great North Run. He is still involved in the National Farmers Union (NFU) and has been a Suffolk delegate representing the county at national council.

The Cobbald family have farmed in Suffolk for more about 500 years and bought land at Acton Hall about a century ago, building a 4500 acre contract farming business of which 2300 acres Stephen still farms today. His sons also work in agriculture, one running a dairy herd of more than 1000 cattle in South Island, New Zealand, the oldest managing a 3500acre estate in Newmarket. His daughter Charlotte is studying at Ipswich High School but shows Texels and sheepdogs up and down the country.

Suffolk Show Stoppers.... with Show Director David Nunn

“2012 is the year the show industry probably wants to forget.

Let’s move forward and maintain confidence in the 2013 Suffolk Show. People have asked me if the show will be smaller with fewer displays because of the losses of last year? I want to put the record absolutely straight and say that there will be no compromises in the quality and content of our show.

We have maintained last year’s rates for admission, car parking, tradestand holders, equine competitors and livestock exhibitors. We are making improvements throughout the site - enlarging our sponsors’ facilities and creating a larger covered grandstand in the vice-presidents enclosure and have refurbished the lavatories in the Members’ area.

Tradestand bookings are on schedule with plenty of interest for new feature areas - Made in Suffolk and House and Garden.

The equine and livestock schedules have been sent out and most of the judges who were scheduled to judge on the second day last year have agreed to judge for us this year.

There is an exciting new schools initiative planned as a joint venture with Cooking with Kids and Healthy Ambitions Suffolk for the Farminganglia area.

We have a great show lined up and all the Grand Ring displays are booked and include Broke FMX motorcycles, the 23rd engineers from Rock Barracks, Woodbridge, with a new time challenge display and Suffolk Young Farmers.

Discounted advance tickets can be bought at

Bookings strong for Trinity Park Events

After a difficult trading year for the hospitality industry in 2012, Trinity Park Events Ltd (TPEL), the commercial arm of the Association, has started the year with a strong diary of bookings. Tough cost-cuttings measures, negotiations on margins and a direct sales approach, coupled with a hugely successful Christmas party season has ensured a good first quarter.

“Bookings taken so far are 80 per cent of our year’s budget, compared with about 65 per cent at this time last year,” said commercial manager Christine Bond. “We’ve had to take tough strategic measures and examined every part of the business to ensure our offering is pitched at the right levels. Cuts in the public service budget had a knock-on effect on our 2012 business but with some careful targeting and prudent budgeting as well as appointment of new staff and two non-executive directors – James Averdieck, founder of GU puddings and Nick Mills from Brasteads - together with our board giving advise and insight, the business is in a strong position at the start of 2013,” she said.