The first Young Farmers’ Club opened in 1921 in Hemyock, Devon, where the United Dairies milk factory set children of the area’s milk producers the task of calf rearing, with competitions and prizes for those achieving the highest standards.
Over the next decade more clubs opened to provide agricultural education, with the focus on the keeping of growing and living things including calves, pigs, poultry, bees and gardens.
After the death of one of YFC’s original founders and greatest inspirations, Lord Northcliffe, in 1922 the Ministry of Agriculture took on development of the organisation. But within six years it was proving difficult for it to offer the type of help needed by the members to organise the 50 clubs or offer guidance on the rural social role Young Farmers’ Clubs were assuming.
In 1929 the National Council for Social Services (NCSS) stepped in with the goal of developing YFC as a voluntary, self-governing and self-generating organisation.
The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs was formed in March 1932, with its head office in London.
New clubs sprang up in Scotland, Northern Ireland and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand and by the outbreak of the Second World War, the federation included 412 clubs and 22 county federations with a membership of 15,000 people.
The war years marked a turning point for YFC with the development of agricultural classes and proficiency tests, but were also nearly disastrous as many YFC supporters and staff were drawn into the armed forces or war work. Some clubs announced they were closing until after the war and by the end of 1940 few people held much hope of reviving YFC.
But the picture changed dramatically when the Board of Education (BoE) was empowered to give financial help to youth organisations including YFC. A joint advisory committee was formed between the BoE, Ministry of Agriculture and NFYFC. Though membership had dropped to just 7,000, YFC now had government help, and had undergone a wide change, educationally and socially.
It had become obvious that YFC could provide a countryside youth service and also clear it couldn’t do so with its existing staff, so the advisory committee made possible the appointment of an organiser for each county as part of the NFYFC staff.
Then, just as the organisers had been appointed in 1943, the Treasury decided grant aid from national government could not be used to appoint staff working at county level and YFC members were committed to shouldering the financial responsibility.
A resolution was passed at the national AGM in 1947 to devise a national scheme to encourage crafts and recognise and reward skill. It aimed to encourage YFCs to organise instruction on a wide range of subjects. This was developed throughout the 1950s and formally recognised as the National Proficiency Test Scheme. By the end of the decade 10,000 tests a year were being taken and many thousands more Young Famers were taking classes.
When the tests became a formal part of nationally recognised assessment schemes, uniform national standards became necessary, and as NFYFC did not have the necessary resources it gave up control of the scheme.
Society’s swiftly changing attitudes in the 1960s helped to produce YFC members who felt that as they were contributing to the cost of their organisation they had the right to make the decisions, and who realised the positive role YFC could play.
The national office moved from London to Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, in 1968. YFC influence spread and its standing as a national youth organisation became better understood. New avenues opened and the horizons of members broadened as they looked at things that would give YFC a wider involvement.
YFC worked hard in developing its international links and exchange programme and members were able to join the Council of European Young Agriculturalists (CEJA).
As the federation celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1982, membership was at record level. The HQ at Stoneleigh Park was enlarged to include space for a training centre and improved motorway connections with the Midlands allowed members and county staff to take advantage of the courses offered. The result was a large group of senior members eager to serve as officers and leaders and use their skills to widen the organisation’s thinking.
With great traditions and a successful past, YFC looked ahead to the next 50 years aiming to retain those traditions yet be flexible enough to attract young people who were becoming more sophisticated with each generation.
It had find a way of neither becoming a narrow single purpose organisation, nor a general youth organisation, of retaining its countryside and farming traditions and yet being sophisticated enough to appeal to a wide spectrum of young people.
Throughout the golden years morale in clubs was good, members were keen to participate. They raised large amounts of money for local and national charities and provided labour and leadership for community projects.
The Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee became a very effective force. Conservation, land use and agribusiness programmes were devised and the establishment of farm business tenancies was much influenced by this group.
YFC was encouraged by government, financial institutions, business and academia to continue its pioneering role and sponsorship and grants were made available to augment YFC’s subscription income to finance developments.
Many members have gone on to represent their communities and agriculture at the highest levels on district and county councils, as MPs, MEPs and within the realms of agri-politics both nationally and in Brussels, where John Lee (Devon) was elected president of CEJA.
The Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 affected the way the YFCs were able to function. Many members were affected and most clubs took the decision to close yet remained in contact by to ensure peer support was there at this crucial time.
Membership is steadily increasing and there is a significant increase in the number of junior members joining the organisation.
NFYFC has been reviewing and evaluating its role within the rural youth and agricultural sectors ensuring it is able to continue to meet the needs of today’s members.
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Designed by Kevyn Williams