Thoughts on the youngest 75-year old in farming

The Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs are putting a concert on at the Glasgow Hydro. Picture: Complimentary
The Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs are putting a concert on at the Glasgow Hydro. Picture: Complimentary
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IT MAY be really stretching it to say the hills are alive with the sound of music but if you drive past village halls all over Scotland in the coming weeks you might hear a fair bit of singing.

The reason behind the music is that the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC) are putting together a concert in the recently-opened Hydro in Glasgow at the end of the month. Understandably, there is a fair bit of practice needed before the next farming generation gets up on the same stage as the like of Rod Stewart.

The concert is part of the final weekend of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the SAYFC and it is linked with other events such as the finals of a number of its national competitions, its annual meeting and a black-tie dinner dance.

I wonder what those young people who attended the first young farmers meeting at Lynegar in Caithness in 1923 would make of the weekend festival of events.

They had been brought together to “promote vocational and educational training, to instruct members in the conduct of club business and in the duties and responsibilities of citizenship” and as an afterthought the author of those sentiments, George Esslemont, from the North of Scotland College, added: “And to provide social amusement and healthy recreation with a view to making farm and rural life more attractive to the younger members of the community”.

Strip out the heaviness of the language and leave in the main principles and the thrust of the young farmers’ movement today is pretty much as he envisaged it.

Incidentally, those who are still trying to reconcile the 1923 first club meeting with the 75th anniversary, the answer is simply that it was not until 1938 that the national organisation came into being.

Recently, I interviewed Penny Montgomerie, SAYFC chief executive, and many of her responses echoed the original aims. She spoke about the importance of confidence building and how speechmaking, which has been one of the core competitions of the movement in its 75 years, had helped in that regard.

She also spoke of the model endorsed by the national association where local members have been encouraged to run their own clubs, saying this allowed members “to take ownership of their organisation”.

Montgomerie, chief executive for four years, and who in that time has helped bring financial stability to the national organisation, also stressed the importance of the clubs providing a sound social network for young people and one not just for farmers.

Part of the social network is the range of activities SAYFC offers. The weekend in Glasgow will see the finals of the soccer and hockey competitions. These are but two of more than 20 competitive activities, ranging from sports, art and crafts, speechmaking in which members can take part.

Montgomerie emphasised that the national organisation was not prescriptive about these. It was up to the members and the clubs which ones they wanted to compete in; all very devolved and all a big lesson in local democracy for many other organisations and,
indeed, governments.

I teased her a little about it being a rural marriage agency, pointing out that she has colluded in this by marrying a fellow SAYFC member. Without blinking or hesitation, she said the association provided a social network and there were opportunities to meet future partners.

Previously, I referred to another reputation that young farmers had had, including a tendency for a spot of hooliganism; setting off fire extinguishers; letting livestock out of pens at the Highland Show, and the like.

Again, without a blink or a stutter, she replied that one of the good things about the club set-up is that they take responsibility for their members, so if members misbehave they know it will be their peers who will deal with it.

At this point I realised that today’s SAYFC is a mature organisation with a framework that is preparing the next generation well for the 21st century.

This maturity is linked with a social responsibility, and nationally it has raised £50,000 this year towards the Willie Davidson Trust.

If you do not believe me on the maturity either watch BBC Two this Thursday at 9pm as it follows the life of three members, or go along to the Stayin Alive at 75 concert.

Better still, do both.