YOUNG FARMER of the Year 2021 will be decided in a week’s time, as all six finalists go head-to-head to compete for the coveted title.

Over the past two weeks, The SF has spoken to four of the contenders who are preparing for the final day of tasks, and this week catches up up with the final two challengers, who both happen to hail from the same club, Avondale YFC.

All six participants first threw themselves into the running at the qualification rounds during the regional rallies back in the summer. Some were coerced, some stumbled upon the opportunity, but all agree that they have loved the experience and have learnt valuable skills which are applicable to everyday life.

Having demonstrated their knowledge across the board, for a variety of different sectors of the agricultural industry, the final six are now tasked with presenting a business proposal to a panel of judges and have a further series of challenges to turn their hand to.

With a hypothetical £500,000 cash pot to play with, the finalists have been to visit a farm in Kinross and have been given free rein to spend the money as they see fit to improve or develop the farming operation.

Read more: SAYFC:Northern contenders for the Young Farmer of The Year title

The YFOTY final will take place on Saturday, December 4, and will be rounded off with a black-tie evening, bringing together clubs from across Scotland to celebrate the achievements and efforts of young farmers.


The Scottish Farmer:

James Hamilton

Throwing his hat in to the ring for the second time is 24-year-old mixed livestock farmer James Hamilton.

Leaving school at the age of 16, James took on the tenancy of his grandparent’s farm, Gilmeadowland Farm in Linlithgow, on the Callander Estate, where he has been for the past eight years.

He looks after 240 acres of land where he runs 60 Angus cross cows which he puts to a Charolais bull, 400 Cheviot Mule ewes and grows spring barley for feeding.

He originally grew up on his family’s mixed beef, sheep and dairy farm in Strathaven but jumped at the opportunity to take on his own farm with the encouragement of his parents and younger brother, who he said were a huge support especially in the first few years.

James is a member of Avondale YFC and has been for 10 years but has also during some of that time been a member of Bathgate JAC. He is the current vice-chair of Avondale and told the SF that it has been wonderful to see so many new faces recently joining the club, and that members are currently in concert rehearsals, hoping to defend their title from their big win in 2019.

Unlike the other five contenders preparing for this year’s YFOTY title, James has experience on his side, having made it through to the final in 2019. He said he was keen to support the competition again and hopes that it will grow from strength to strength and one day become as big as the event held in New Zealand.

Commenting on his performance in the elimination rounds which took place during the summer regional rallies he said: “I was really pleased to make it through to the final this year and I’m looking forward to the finals weekend and awards night this December.”

Read more: East representatives competing to take home YFOTY title

He put his success down to being an all-rounder. “It helps that I am a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none,” James continued. “As well as having a background in arable, beef and sheep, I did a couple of years relief milking and am quite mechanically minded from tackling things at home myself before I give in and ask for help. Moving to Gilmeadowland so young has forced me to learn so much more about farming and figure things out on my own, which has come in handy during the competition.”

Having taken part in YFOTY before, he is no stranger to the business proposal he has to prepare for the final and hopes that he can take on board comments from this previous experience.

“I learnt that milk in the tank is what counts,” he laughed. “We often look at things in a theoretic manner but putting them in to real life is a different ball game.

“You start to consider ideas that normally you would never even think of, and you find yourself exploring the likes of diversification and opportunities outside your comfort zone.”

He added that it is great experience for the future and pointed out that a past finalist implemented their YFOTY proposal on their own farm, which highlights just how much can be gained from taking part.

“I’m fortunate to be in a position where I could make some of these ideas come to life, so it is has been hugely beneficial to take part in this competition. It is also a very good opportunity to see where you stack up against others and forces you to look at the way you conduct your own business."


The Scottish Farmer:

Sarah Whitelaw

The final contender to stake her claim to the title of YFOTY is veterinary student and fellow Avondale member, Sarah Whitelaw.

From an early age, Sarah set her sights on becoming a vet, and not coming from a farming background hasn’t stood in her way as she dedicated her spare time to soaking up knowledge and skills from the farming fraternity and throwing herself in to lambings, night milkings and livestock handling at every opportunity.

When she left school, she spent a year in Penrith working as a sheep AI technician before going on to study vet medicine at Edinburgh University where she is now in her fourth year and hopes to specialise in large animals, particularly sheep.

When she was 15, she got involved with her local young farmers club, Avondale YFC, through school friends – James Hamilton himself was a pupil who Sarah’s mother, a chemistry teacher, taught at school – and from early days competing in handicrafts as a junior, she has gone on to get involved with a range of club activities.

She shared with The SF how she ended up entering YFOTY and why she has loved every bit of the process.

“I was never intending on entering the competition and was at the regional rally competing in tug of war when my friend and I were getting a burger and the food van happened to be positioned next to the YFOTY qualifiers, and next thing we knew we ended up getting roped in,” she laughed.

“The stations were luckily right up my street. One was speaking to a vet about dairy management, looking at milk recordings and there were a few other practical tasks which allowed me to pull on my experience from all the different people who have taken time over the past few years to share their knowledge of different sectors with me.”

Turning to the business plan which she has to prepare for the final, Sarah is looking forward to the challenge and is putting the final touches to her idea.

“It was great to get to see the farm in Kinross a few weeks ago as it gave us a better view of what is possible. I think there is scope for some sort of project or business set up within the farm to really tap in to its potential,” she said, but is keeping her cards close to her chest ahead of the big reveal.

“Half a million pounds is a lot of money to play with for someone who has only done contract work,” she continued, adding that she had just got off the phone with her RBS mentor Chris who had been a huge support throughout the process.

“It is such an exciting opportunity to have this kind of hypothetical cash as it encourages you to think what could be possible in real life if you were to go to the bank, and how you could put your ideas into motion.”

Looking head to the awards night in December, she said she was so looking forward to SAYFC bringing young farmers together to recognise their efforts and said it would be a brilliant way to end the YFOTY competition on a high.

She concluded by encouraging other members to take part in the competition in the years to come: “I’m so glad I took part and I’ll be shouting about my experience to everyone to get involved in the future. It is such a good opportunity for members to turn their hand to tasks that otherwise they might never experience and give them the confidence to put new skills they learn in to practice in everyday life.”