As the biggest event in the Scottish farming calendar approaches, Gemma Mackenzie speaks to the new chairman of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs, Katherine Marr, to find out what her priorities are for the association
What is your background?
I grew up on a family dairy farm outside Mauchline, Ayrshire, where I was the eldest of three children who each had their chores on the family farm. This was where my passion for agriculture began, especially for poultry as I was in charge of the chickens at home.
I left home at 18 to study an honours degree in environmental management in Edinburgh. After graduating I was offered a month’s harvest work in the north of Scotland and somehow, seven years later, I’m still working on the same farm, although the work has changed. I work for Highland Feather Fresh outside Tain in the Scottish Highlands. Here there are 97,000 free-range laying birds and more than 360ha of arable land on which crops are grown mainly to support the poultry enterprise. I am responsible for selling up to 10% of our eggs locally, with the other percentage heading to Noble Foods Group.
It was here in the Highlands I really got my teeth into being a Young Farmers member. I was involved in the reforming of Ross Sutherland Young Farmers, as there was no active club when I moved north. I have since taken on various roles such as club, district and north chairman, before reaching national chairman three weeks ago.
What can you bring to the role of chairman and what will your priorities be?
Commitment, passion, a sense of humour, and a dose of common sense. I feel very privileged to serve within this role and I value the support and advice that the management board of Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC) provide. I look forward to meeting as many members as I can at the Highland Show or at other events throughout the year.
Priorities for this year are:
- Development of the strategic plan
- Farm safety initiative
- Increase membership numbers, and in particular introduce new clubs in more remote rural areas
If SAYFC was a person, what would they be like?
Social, chatty and someone who burns the candle at both ends – works hard and plays hard.
Why is SAYFC so important and what is its place in Scottish agriculture?
SAYFC has a special anniversary this year celebrating 75 years and is still providing social network opportunities for the youth of today within rural communities. So much is changing in the agricultural industry and SAYFC is striving this year to achieve a stronger agri-affairs presence. We want to be able to have our say but also have our voice heard. The clutch of young farmers are very much the future of Scottish agriculture whether it be in the form of NFU Scotland leaders, farmers producing for supermarket shelves or bankers providing financial support.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for youngsters in Scottish agriculture and what do you see as a solution to this?
A major problem is giving entrants the opportunity to get out there and farm for themselves. As we all know the average age in farming is not far of 60; there are not many other businesses where this would be the norm, therefore this is not a healthy position to be in. We as youngsters have to keep lobbying the government about this. Luckily, I believe we have a government that is willing to listen and is taking actions to help us but we do still have a long way to go.
This year is the 75th anniversary year for the club – what special activities are planned?
The Royal Highland Show is going to be jam packed with extra activities this year including national tug of war finals, a flash mob extravaganza in the main ring, national stockman of the year competition and a 75th anniversary exhibition in the young farmers centre. In November there will be a special weekend at the new Hydro arena in Glasgow – the Stayin’ Alive @75 concert will feature 300 performers and we will also host our national dinner dance.