Bishop Martin Seeley explains why he welcomes the retun of the Suffolk Show
I am really looking forward to the first Suffolk Show for three years. We are living in such a strange time at the moment, where some seem to be trying to imagine the pandemic didn’t happen, while others are bearing the continuing devastating impact of it, and others of us are catching the virus for the first time.
It was my turn a couple of weeks ago.
When we realise that we are doing something for the first time for three years, or meeting someone in the flesh for the first time for ages, we remember just how dramatic the pandemic has been and continues to be for the world.
And then we add to that the aggression and destruction being meted out on the people of Ukraine, the impact on their lives, and indeed the life of the world, not least through the disruption of food and fuel supplies.
In such times as these it is so important to be able to resume activities that we really appreciate and that were part of our lives before the pandemic. And particularly activities that bring people together for celebration and fun, and so remind us of what good looks like, and how important getting together is for all of us. These are activities that bring encouragement and hope.
In my experience, the Suffolk Show can do that for everyone.
I started as bishop here in Suffolk seven years ago, at this time of year, and so the Suffolk Show in 2015 happened within the first few weeks of my arrival. It was a wonderful way to begin, to get to know Suffolk, to meet people from across the county, and from so many corners of county life. And of course, to meet the farmers with their livestock competing for a prize.
I have made sure I have been able to attend both days of the Suffolk Show ever since.
And of course this year the show is celebrating not just its own return, but, gloriously, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
The show happens just two days before the long Jubilee weekend and various events during this major county event will be specifically focussed on this extraordinary and unprecedented milestone for our Queen. This includes the Diocese’s tent – on stand 602 – where the theme will be Her Majesty’s Jubilee and Suffolk Blessing, giving thanks for the many ways in which our lives are blessed in this county.
I look forward to meeting up with you there, and the marquee provides opportunities for a break, for free refreshments, a place to sit down and chat with friends, and amazing activities for children – and a puppet show.
And we all know as we give thanks for the Queen’s 70 years of faithful service, that our celebrations will be hollow if we are not continuing also to serve and help others.
So as we celebrate at the Suffolk Show, I am also acutely aware of the challenges that our farmers have been facing particularly over the recent years, through the pandemic into the present. Right now my concern is for the pig farmers of our county. They have been suffering huge challenges throughout the pandemic with rising food costs and decreasing value of the pigs they are producing. That has been exacerbated by the shortage of staff working in the abattoirs, meaning that pigs have not been able to go to the abattoir when they have reached the right weight.
There are currently about 60,000 pigs ready to go but the farmers have to continue to feed them, and they inevitably exceed the weight they are meant to be, so their value decreases even further.
And now the already increased cost of feed has shot up even further, and electricity costs have done too, and farmers are losing money, not making money, on pigs
The strain, financial and emotional, on our pig farmers is huge.
So as we celebrate Suffolk farming at the Suffolk Show it is important for us to look out for the pig farmers, and recognise the dreadful plight they are facing.
There are challenges in other areas of agriculture, much due to the shortage of labour and the increase in feed, fuel and fertiliser prices.If we are not farmers ourselves we can end up being quite detached from the challenges they face, when in fact we are absolutely bound up with what is happening in our farms because they are producing food for us.
Recognising the interconnection of farming and our daily lives is important if we are going to reach a point where farming in this country and county is sustainable.
That will likely mean higher prices, but it will also mean a more secure food supply, and agriculture that is sustainable and does not deplete the land.
These are big challenges but I believe we all need to support facing these challenges so that we can celebrate at the Suffolk Show the future of our farming and our food.
-- The Right Rev Martin Seeley id Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich