Lancashire farmers plant seeds for 75th anniversary

Lancashire Telegraph: MODERN ERA Simon Barnes whose family has run its 250-year-old farm with 800 acres at Bashall Town for 37 years MODERN ERA Simon Barnes whose family has run its 250-year-old farm with 800 acres at Bashall Town for 37 years

LANCASHIRE Young Farmers put down its roots in 1938 — and though the farming community has been severely cut back over the decades it is still vigorous today.

The group is gearing up to celebrate its 75th birthday with a host of anniversary events through this year.

The organisation, which supports young people in agriculture and the countryside, has 770 members, aged 10 to 26, at 19 clubs around the county.

The anniversary year starts with a dinner dance, on Saturday, at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, which will get under way with a champagne reception and conclude with live entertainment.

More than seven decades since it came into being, the Young Farmers still meet weekly and enjoy activities that also took place in the 1930s — from talks on butchery, stock judging, floral art and crafts, to tug of war, folk dancing, quizzes and competitions.

What has changed, however, are the numbers; there may still be Young Farmers groups in Bacup, Chipping, Bolton-by-Bowland, Chipping, Clitheroe, Longridge, Pendle, Samlesbury and Slaidburn, but a drop in membership has reflected the steady decline in the number of farms in Lancashire.

Despite skilled farmers, high technology, fertile grazing land and subsidies, which primarily come from the European Union, farm earnings are relatively low, mainly due to low prices at the farm gate.

For those farmers who managed to claw back their living following the scare of mad cow disease and then the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, which saw thousands of cattle burn on bonfires, are today battling the consumers’ demand for lower food prices and the dominant supermarkets.

In the 1930s, housewives would shop at their local butcher, baker or greengrocer. Today we do our weekly shopping at the local superstore, which dictates prices on the shelves, such as £1 for a four-pint bottle of milk.

It means that, to see any kind of return, Lancashire dairy farmers have either had to amalgamate with a neighbour or drastically increase herd numbers.

The Townson family of six, who farm Westby Hall in Gisburn, is a prime example. Today they milk 250 cows, when the family once kept a few dozen.

And they have had to build up the herd from scratch after they were hit by foot-and-mouth and lost every animal.

Generations of Townsons once farmed at Magnolls Farm, Oswaldtwistle, before they moved 13 years ago, when the M65 was built across their fields.

Daughter Jessica, who is chairman of Bolton Young Farmers and spokeswoman for the Lancashire group, said: “The variety of activities that Lancashire FYFC has ensures a high number of passionate young people who dedicate their time and efforts to help the organisation goes from strength to strength.

“With youth unemployment rising and conditions for agriculture consistently difficult, it is important young people in rural areas are confident and skilled ambassadors for their businesses and the rural way of life.

“There is an ever increasing need to support and develop sustainable rural communities and the retention of young people in countryside is extremely important.”

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