75 years of Axminster YFC

PUBLISHED: 22:42 25 March 2008 | UPDATED: 21:38 15 June 2010

IN 1932 the Federation of Young Farmers came into being as an umbrella organisation for the many calf clubs that were springing up across the country. It followed the formation of the first club, in 1921 at Hemyock, Devon.

In 1932 the Federation of Young Farmers came into being as an umbrella organisation for the many calf clubs that were springing up across the country. It followed the formation of the first club, in 1921 at Hemyock, Devon.This was the idea of the management at the United Dairies milk factory, who saw it as a public relations exercise designed to help safeguard the long-term supply of milk from the farms in the area. The intention was to motivate youngsters into an organised programme of calf-rearing, with prizes for those achieving the best results.The inaugural meeting of the Axminster Young Farmers' Club was held in April, 1933, at the Church Rooms. A large number of enthusiastic young members from farming the community - and some older ones - ensured the club got off to a good start.The election of the first officers had Major Lutterall as President, Walter Wright as Club Leader, Cyril Gibbins as Chairman, Hilda Spiller as Secretary and Mollie Hurford as Treasurer. From a mere £2 given to Mollie by William Trott to get started, the treasurer's report at the 2007 AGM balanced out at tens of thousands.A twelve-monthly programme was agreed with the first Monday of the month being a business meeting at which there would be talks and presentations on the trends of the day, together with demonstrations on butter making, poultry trussing and farmhouse crafts. The social side was mainly dances, with the first outing in 1933 to north Devon. Although named Axminster, the club activities were held at the Church Room and School room at Kilmington until the 1960s.The first club calf ever bought cost £4 and made £22 when sold. At the club's 2007 show and sale, the champion beast made a whopping £700. Dairy heifers reared today cost £400 and beef heifers cost £140.The club membership soon reached 100, peaking in 1980, with 140 members recorded. The club expanded, with training classes in all aspects of farming practise.But the club's progress was interrupted with the start of the Second World War. At his time, the club secretary was Lilly Pidgeon. After the war, young farmers found themselves having to learn many more skills, especially with the horse being replaced with tractors and mechanical machinery bringing about the biggest changes ever in farming history. Today, training in farm crafts is at a very high standard with those employed in the business have to attain certificates of competence.Competition between members and other clubs at group and county level has always been very intense and the Axminster Club can hold its head high at all levels: tug of war champions for six successive years; winning the county public speaking four times in five years; and winning the SWEB competition - the big quiz to win - which was added to the club's trophies and group sports champions three years running.Success was also achieved at a national level, the first being with Miss Aslter winning the 1936 clean milking award at the National Dairy show in London. Jeff Wakely was among the first mem-bers to win a national scholarship to Australia in 1964. Since then, members have won scholarships to all points of the compass.In 1972, Bill Newberry was a winner at the Royal Show and Giles Webber represented the club at the National Tractor Handling Competition. One of the national competitions the girls entered was the Dairy Queen competition. In 1970, Marilyn Legg reached the finals, which were hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. She was crowned National Dairy Princess.Charity fundraising has been one of the club's major efforts. During the Second World War funds were initially raised for the Red Cross. Now, numerous charities are supported with Cancer Research at the top of the list. In 2004, the club was the first recipient of the Devon RABI Roger Keast Memorial trophy of a bronze hare, awarded for having raised most money for charity in 2003.The club carnival floats for more than forty years are what the general public knows the club for and an invitation was received from the Lord Mayor of London to appear in his show.During the past decade the numbers of farmers leaving the industry has gathered pace due to the demise of the milk marketing board. The dominance of multi-national companies, a negative approach by the government and the foot and mouth disaster of 2001 have also played their part.Club membership has become reliant on young people from outside the industry, something which would have been unheard of 75 years ago. Despite this decline, there appears to be brighter prospects ahead. An increasing global demand for higher living standards and the threat of climate change have led farming to become one of national importance once again.The Young Farmers' movement will continue to meet the challenges ahead and will do as their motto says: produce good farmers, good countrymen and good citizens.An anniversary celebration will take place at the Guildhall, Axminster, on April 12. Tickets are £15 from Sammy White, 18 Franklea Close, Ottery, St Mary, Devon, EX11 1BQ.

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