IT WAS a pretty august gathering that sat down on Saturday night in the august setting of the Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomondside at a gala dinner to celebrate the first 75 years of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs.
Scattered throughout the throng were former chairmen and women going right back to Bobby Lennox, who served in the top spot in 1958.
There were also national secretaries, including the present incumbent, Penny Montgomerie, previously Laird, who has quietly and effectively guided the association back onto an even keel after a pretty rocky financial time.
The most prominent former official present at the weekend was “Mr Scottish Young Farmer”, RF or “Bob” Gregor, who joined the organisation in 1949 after being a club member in his native Turriff and who was still in active service as national adviser more than 30 years later.
Even after his official retirement, he has kept a watching brief on the activities of this Scotland wide rural youth organisation and quite correctly those present at the weekend recognised his contribution to the movement. With all those oldies in the gathering, it was no surprise that most of the talk was of times past.
The strength of the young farmers movement has always been at grassroots.
Long before the establishment of the association on 2 February, 1938 in Edinburgh, there were young farmers clubs, with the honour of the first going to a club established in 1923 at Lanergill, Caithness.
John Robson, who farmed Lynegar, had noted the success of the 4H rural clubs in the United States and decided to follow their example in training the next generation in the skills required in 20th century farming.
Part of the first season’s syllabus he produced was the purchase of a litter of pigs which was then distributed to the membership.
A sale later in the season established which member had been most successful in his/her pig husbandry.
Nine decades later, that same system of buying young stock and then parading them later at young farmer sales plays a role in bringing on the next generation of stockmen.
Another important part of young farmers’ training is in stock judging and somewhere in my collection of books is the bible on this skill.
Know Your Farm Stock is the unambiguous title and even if I never mastered the art, it did give me the underlying principles.
To this day, I admire those who “ken” their stock and can separate the wheat from the chaff – so to speak – in the animal kingdom.
To me, stockjudging, speechmaking, and all the other rural skills imparted through membership of the young farmers’ movement provide at least half of its rationale.
The other part is the social and community side, where those with similar interests gather not only to enjoy themselves but also to raise money for those less fortunate or for community facilities.
That is why I raised an eyebrow of concern with the latest survey which the association had carried out with its 3,000 or so members. This identified their three key issues of concern: the price of fuel, the scarcity of farmland and the reluctance of banks to lend.
To me, this proves the next generation is aware of issues and it is ambitious – both of which are to be admired but realistically do the young believe there is any hope of a major shift in policies which might bring about change in these big issues?
If they want to tackle issues such as that, I would advise them to join a lobby organisation such as NFU Scotland or Scottish Land and Estates, and if they are really serious, join a political party.
Notably, the aforementioned Bob Gregor advised the association on Saturday the best way forward was to continue developing individual member’s skills and for them to work within local communities.
I cannot recall if he was originally behind the association’s slogan but even if I have not seen it for a decade or two, I believe it should be dusted off. It is still appropriate for the next 75 years: it is “Better Farmers, Better Countrymen, and Better Citizens”.