Young Farmers Clubs are the jewel in agriculture’s crown

My brain hurts. I have spent the last month trying to get my head around the new countryside stewardship application process. I have read so many priority statements, grant details and guidance notes, cross-referenced them with each other and tried to make our application score highly enough to secure a mid-tier agreement.

I quickly understood why, as of a couple of weeks ago, only a handful of the application packs sent out by Natural England had been returned. It is not a farmer friendly form. In fact I would suggest that Natural England never intended farmers to attempt it at all, rather for it to provide a new revenue stream for the land agents and advisers that are forever touting their services.

Well I’m too stubborn and too tight for that nonsense. So I have spent my evenings poring over the guidance, making notes and tables of options and grants in an attempt to cobble together enough field corners, untrimmed hedges and buffer strips to achieve the ambiguous “farm pollinator package”.

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The process of completing the farm environment map was pleasant enough on a sunny autumn day with the dogs in tow, ambling through the fields with teddy’s colouring pencils and a clipboard. However, imagine my horror when I came to complete the options map and annexes, when I realised that in order to accurately claim for fences and hedgerow options I was going to have to measure the actual length of each boundary in 25 fields on 30ha of a precipitous Cornish valley.

I managed to borrow a metre wheel and set off on a mizzly morning to walk just over 9km up and down those blasted hills, nearly losing my precious Dubarry boots in a bog at the bottom of the valley. At one point I realised that I had dropped my pen and had to retrace my steps up the steepest slope to retrieve it. What I would have given at that moment for a quad bike, but of course attempting to scale these particular fields on anything other than shanks’ pony would be suicide.

With my map dutifully completed with every length of hedge, ditch and watercourse recorded to the nearest metre I then embarked on about another mile-long hike back to the pickup. When I finally got back to the house I, of course, collapsed in a heap and William kindly revived me with a packet of custard creams and a cuppa. Thank goodness we have another couple of months to assemble all the supporting evidence and submit it.

I’m going to be taking lots of photos and repeating myself as I write the justifications for all the capital works William wants to do. The problem with this part of the farm, which we took on about 18 months ago, is that because it’s so steep and difficult to access, it is rather run down. We want to tidy it up but, as with many small farms, without schemes like this one, we simply couldn’t justify the cost of the works required. Hopefully the agreement will allow us to protect and enhance this very pretty, secret corner of Cornwall. I’m going to be as fit as a flea when we actually come to do the fencing works up and down those hills.

In other news our old young farmers club, Roborough, hosted an afternoon tea in celebration of our 70th anniversary. When we moved to the farm it was a little too far to attend club events regularly and with the arrival of the kids, these days we only rock up to the odd event and the annual dinner and dance. It was lovely to look through all the old photos of our YFC days, stock judging, charity events and, of course, nights out.

I was amazed at the amount of older members who had come from far and wide for a catch-up. It was lovely to meet some of our founder members and hear about how our club got started and what an integral role it has played in the farming community over the years. What affected me most about the reunion was the chatter and spirit of reminiscence.

Farming has gone through such incredible changes over the last 70 years and our members have seen it all. I wonder what changes the members of the next 70 years will see?

Teddy and Lydia were on top form, racing around the village hall with the rest of the mini farmers. The fantastic buffet of cakes proved irresistible to them. Teddy and his friend James must have stolen a dozen cupcakes, only to lick off the frosting and return them to the table. Lydia took a shine to the saffron buns, she raced off across the hall with one in each hand and a scone stuffed in her mouth. I do feed them, honestly.

Roborough YFC has done an amazing job these last 70 years, nurturing the young farmers in our area by providing the framework for developing skills and fostering friendships that persist down the generations. Will and I are so very grateful for the amazing support we’ve received right from the start of our farming career.

YFC is the jewel in our industry’s crown and, with all sectors facing serious challenges at the moment, it has never been more important for that community spirit that’s unique to our Young Farmers Clubs to shine through.

Jess Jeans and her husband Will run 75 suckler cows on an 80ha National Trust farm on the Devon/Cornwall border. They have two children, Edward and Lydia. Jess has a degree in rural business management and enjoys horse riding in her spare time.

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