National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs

Fun, Learning, and Achievement

1920s


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.

 

1930s


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.
 

1940s and 1950s


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.

 

1960s and 1970s

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).

 

1980s and 1990s


 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.

 

2000s


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 that they could not hold meetings, activities and shows/rallies.  However the membership remained positive and in contact to ensure peer support was there at this crucial time.

The situation remained this way for the best part of six months.  Recovery of the YFC took off in the autumn, as the new YFC year started and brought about a significant change in the membership demographic.  For the first time, the number of members under the age of 18 was greater than those over 18. This necessitated a different way of working for many clubs, which proved successful as the number of younger members grew in the early 2000s and overall membership increased throughout the decade.

The introduction of Criminal Records Checks (CRBs), now Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS) for all volunteers taking office in charities and taking responsibilities for supervising children and people at risk, was a priority for the YFC community.  Safeguarding responsibilities were essential throughout the organisation.

NFYFC, the county federations and YFCs all had to make changes to ensure they continued to provide a safe and secure space for all YFC members.

In the very late 2000s the last of the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Royal Show was held at Stoneleigh Park. This four-day event was the home of many YFC competitions finals and so its demise meant NFYFC moved its national finals to regional events and shows. This change has showcase the skills and talent of the YFC membership to many people and these events are now considered the highlight of the year.

2010s

Membership numbers remained steady during this decade and there was much to celebrate.

Countryfile presenter Matt Baker was elected as NFYFC President, bringing wider exposure to the organisation through the media attention he received.

There was also opportunity to engage in national events such as the 2012 Olympics, where NFYFC was involved in a Great British Food for Great British Athletes project, which included cookery demonstrations at the Olympic Torch Relay.

Alongside the unity of the Olympics though, came division through Brexit a few years later. Farming faced one of the biggest changes to any sector in the UK with the formation of a British Agricultural Policy and new trade agreements. Young Farmers were eager to share their views on these topics and consultation responses and feedback to Defra is ongoing as the changes take shape. 

NFYFC held one of its first national campaigns during this decade too – with a focus on rural road safety. Research was commissioned into the dangers of rural roads and a media campaign was launched to elevate the issue, with information on how NFYFC was tackling the problem at a YFC level.

YFC was finding its campaigning voice again as it also launched a mental health awareness campaign targeting isolation in rural areas. Its campaigns, led by the Chairs of Council, focused on broader rural issues rather than just farming, reflecting the wider make-up of the membership.

 

2020s

The start of a new decade brought challenges on a global scale. The Covid-19 pandemic caused YFCs to close again, like they had done during the Foot and Mouth crisis. The major difference this time was that YFCs could deliver an online programme of activity to keep members connected and a YFC at Home programme was launched.

While membership numbers dipped during the pandemic, NFYFC is already seeing an uplift in the number of people joining the organisation again since clubs could re-open properly.

A new YFC Achiever Awards programme was launched to recognise and celebrate the work of YFC members throughout the organisation and attracted new sponsors and partners. And former international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE was elected as NFYFC President – at the organisation’s first ever online Annual General Meeting!

NFYFC also celebrates its 90th year during 2021-22 and its Patron The Queen sent a message of support to mark the occasion.

Please convey my warm thanks to the members of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs for their kind message, sent on the occasion of their celebrations to mark the club’s ninetieth membership year from September 2021 to August 2022.
As your patron, I was pleased to learn that clubs have begun meeting again, following a very challenging period throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Your thoughtfulness in writing is much appreciated. In return, I send my best wishes to you all for a most memorable and enjoyable year marking this notable milestone.

NFYFC continues to review and evaluate 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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