October used to herald the start of a hectic eight-month programme for young farmers clubs with guest speakers every week and visits to everywhere from abattoirs and feed companies.
Membership numbers may be down on generations ago but Knaresborough YFC is hoping that the rekindling of an old event next weekend will prove a winner in more ways than one.
Club leader Chris Green farms at Hare Park near Arkendale where he runs an arable and broiler chicken enterprise. He is reviving the Knaresborough YFC Ploughing Marathon that will take place next weekend on 50 acres at JC Lister Farms in Boroughbridge. It provides an event that its members will be involved in and will raise much-needed funds to allow the club to continue and build on its membership and activity base.
“One of our challenges is to balance the books. Our membership subscriptions don’t cover the costs of running the club, which include our affiliation fees to the county and national association and our rental of the club room in Knaresborough,” says Chris.
“The Ploughing Marathon is an event that dates back to the 60s or 70s and proved a useful income for the club years ago in times when we would donate monies to good causes. It’s now a case of doing it to help our own survival. Past members will recall the times when we ploughed out the land for the Mattocks family near Allerton Park.
“This year we’ve reinstated the event thanks to David Lister who is letting us plough and drill 50 acres and is paying us for doing so. We’ve also been very fortunate that the local machinery dealership across the road from the farm is giving us the use of three brand new New Holland T7 210 tractors, a T8 tractor with a six-metre folding power harrow, two new five-metre furrow ploughs and a three-metre Sulky combination drill.
“They’ve also given us the use of their catering van so that bacon sandwiches can be available for those taking part. It’s a fantastic opportunity for teenagers to get behind the wheel of up to the minute kit.”
While the ploughing event will make for a well-attended get-together, it won’t hide what Chris believes needs to happen if the club is to move forward.
“There was a time when we had in excess of 100 members. We now have around 30. We’re trying to get the membership back to the 60-70 mark so that it once again has strength in numbers and so that when we attend a district rally everyone doesn’t have to enter five or six competitions just so that we can fill all of the classes.
“There were a lot more farmers around when I was a member and we’re not going to get the numbers back through sons and daughters of farming families. We have to wake up to the fact that we need non-farming families to join who have an interest in farming.
“We’re not a youth club. We’re about getting stuck in and seeing animals and tractors, as well as having a great time at many other social events. For those who see they may have a future in the countryside it has always been an ideal way of getting your foot through the door.
“We’re looking at the ploughing marathon as not just helping with our finances but also giving us the wherewithal to get a bit more of a dynamic programme together. The proceeds should cover some of our running costs and allow us to book some more adventurous meetings.”
Tim Weatherhead, 23, has been Knaresborough YFC chairman for four years. He’s also chairman for the Harrogate District. “Years ago the chairman’s role would’ve only been taken on for a maximum of two years and the people who became chairman were the age I am now.
“One of the problems with attracting new members is that there are many other activities available such as sports clubs that are run much more professionally than they were years ago. We also lose membership once further education takes them away to universities and colleges.”
Harrogate District had ten young farmers clubs. Now it has four. It’s a picture that’s mirrored elsewhere as the farming population has dwindled. Knaresborough YFC is clearly determined that it’s not going to be another former club.
A win-win event for all
the Knaresborough YFC Ploughing Marathon will see members ploughing and drilling over two days.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for everyone from teenage lads and girls, leaders and club officials to take part together and we will raise much-needed funds at the same time,” says club leader Chris Green.
“What we’re doing next week allows everyone to get something out of it. David Lister gets his land worked, we raise funds and provide a social activity for members and hopefully future members; and Russell Farm Machinery get to put on a little show demonstrating their latest products next to where we are working.”