A labour of love to bring rally back to farm

The East Riding YFC Annual County Rally returns to an East Yorkshire farm for the first time in 25 years, as Chris Berry reports.

Mark & Diane Flint with this year's East Riding Federation of Young Farmers Clubs Rally Committee

Hatches and matches have been a regular enough occurrence for young farmers club members for many years – often providing the next generation of YFC people.

Mark and Diane Flint of Cawkeld Farm, between Kilnwick and Watton, met for the first time 25 years ago when he and his family were host to what was then the Humberside Federation of Young Farmers Clubs Annual Rally.

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Thankfully since that time the original county name of East Riding has been reinstated, but that’s not all that has happened. They were married the following year and now have two offspring, Charlotte, 23, and James, 20, who have also been just as involved in the organisation as their parents.

“Diane was the rally chairman and we didn’t know each other until planning meetings took place. We started going out during that time and we were engaged just after the rally,” says Mark.

“There were bets being taken as to whether we would announce it on the rally day.”

A quarter of a century later the rally is back at Cawkeld, which is signposted as though it is a village from the Middleton-Kilnwick road but is actually a fantastically well laid-out farm at the end of a lane. But why is it back here?

Mark has been vice president of the East Riding Federation for a number of years and still plays an active part in the running of the federation as does Diane.

“The young farmers movement has given us so much, including meeting each other, which brought about our family. We felt it would be nice to give something back. The young people today are just as enthusiastic as we were in running events but they probably have more stacked against them than we ever had. When we were young farmers the rally was the only game in town as regards an event for the area.

“Now there are far more other activities and the current clubs have to make it even more attractive.

“They also don’t receive the grants that we did back then, so everything has to pay its way. But the county rally is a cracking day and it just works.

“I remember that when we hosted it 25 years ago the number of young farmers club members who came to help out with jobs that needed doing beforehand was phenomenal. You just couldn’t find enough for everyone to do but there was this one chap who for some bizarre reason had rolled up with his club, Howden YFC, and he had loads of hammers in his vehicle. All 20 of their club ended up crushing stone by hand to create greater hard standing in the yard area for the event.”

This year’s rally hasn’t quite reached fever pitch in its organisational phase but Mark is ready for when it does.

“When you come to two weeks beforehand and you suddenly realise you have to turn this from a working farm to something suitable for all the competitions it dawns on you just how much work is involved. This current committee is a really nice group of people and they are very committed.”

Cawkeld Farm is made up of 725 acres, mainly down to arable crops, including wheat for biscuit and for seed; oil seed rape; vining peas for Bird’s Eye; and potatoes. Mark also runs a fattening herd of cattle. Diane is in HR with Jacksons, the bread company.

While their children, now both at university, have grown up working on the farm and being a part of the young farmers movement Mark doesn’t see it as a foregone conclusion that they will follow him into the farming life. “Whether Charlotte or James will I don’t know. It would be lovely if they did, but there is no pressure.”

The young lady facing a modicum more pressure in the coming weeks is Rachael Walshaw, this year’s county rally chairman. Rachael, a farmer’s daughter from near Pocklington, has her own herd of pedigree Limousin cattle that she intends to show next year; works for agricultural engineering company Sumo UK; and is also cluster chairman – a new role in YFC. She has benefitted from having been a vice chairman of the county rally four years ago and is relishing the challenge of putting on this year’s event.

“It’s different being chairman because you feel that things are a lot more on your shoulders, tackling all the problems and issues that come up. We are exceptionally lucky to have such a good venue and Mark and Diane are so helpful and supportive.

“Whilst we have all the competitions you would come to expect from a young farmers club rally, such as tractor driving; sheep shearing; stockjudging; flower arranging and cooking we also have lots of new ones this year, such as drawing a picture of Mark and Diane’s fabulous house from across their pond; making a pair of bookends; and coming up with a typical British song and a YFC chant. There will also be a Yorkshire Pudding eating competition.

“We have 15 clubs in the East Riding Federation and they are now split into four areas. We have always worked this way with the annual county rally but now it’s working this way for several county events. We have already seen a big increase in profit from the social events as a result. We are all working much closer together and making stronger bonds.”

Mark and Diane’s relationship could have been over before it had really started 25 years ago.

“I nearly lost it with Mark,” says Diane. “We had just planned the whole event. I’d marked it all down and everything was pretty much in place when he said he’d had an idea to move it all around!”

Did it get changed to Mark’s way of thinking? I think we know the answer. Diane is not in human resources for nothing – and anyway one of the Howden YFC members had left her a hammer just in case.

East Riding YFC County Rally

East Riding Federation of Young Farmers Clubs Annual County Rally takes place at Cawkeld Farm, near Kilnwick and Watton on Saturday June 1.

Mark and Diane are keen to encourage all those who competed at Cawkeld 25 years ago to come back this year.

They are hosting a special Silver Anniversary Dinner Dance, with a pie and peas supper.

The idea of clubs working together in geographic clusters has come about due to less funding being available. Rachael believes that this is helping.