“I’VE ALWAYS had an appetite for the future of Scottish agriculture, but change doesn’t happen from the side-lines” – That's the words of Colin Ferguson, taking time off from his busy dairy operation in Galloway to speak about his recent appointment as chair of the NFUS' Next Generation working group.

Colin’s grandparents originally hailed from Ayrshire, before buying Park Farm, Newton Stewart, in 1969, where they had a dairy farm, later expanding the business with more land to allow their children to farm alongside.

Early 2001 was a tragic time for the family when foot-and-mouth removed all of their livestock and that of their neighbours. Colin was only 11 at the time and recalled the confusion he felt as a young boy: “I was in my first year of high school when foot-and-mouth hit the headlines. There seemed to be a buzz about the region and lots of people kept coming on to the farm, which as a young boy can be exciting.

“But it was when I first saw the fires lit, that it hit home what was happening and how everything was going to change. I only saw what my parents allowed me to see, so I was shielded from the worst parts, but seeing how agriculture has got back on its feet since, demonstrated to me that we have a resilient industry to be proud of.”

Now in a partnership with his mum, dad and younger brother, Steven, Colin has recently taken over operation of his family’s second dairy farm in the Wigtown area, near, Newton Stewart, which was purchased in August, 2017.

“Where we are in the Machars, we call it the south-west paradise,” he laughed. “Our cattle are grazed outdoors between April and November and only come inside for the real winter months. We milk around 400 Friesians between the two units and are looking to up our cow numbers and improve our milk output – the girls are currently putting out about 6-7000 litres per head and we want this to increase to 7500 litres.

“At the moment, we are calving all year round, but ultimately we are trying to push calving into the back end of the year. I’ve been investing more in AI and using stock bulls less, so hopefully this is going to work better for the herd in the long run,”

“Since I took over the running of the second dairy unit it has been a steep learning curve,” Colin said. “It has been really hard to kick things off but in the past year we have been beginning to make progress and installing a new herringbone parlour in November definitely helped. We have a good contract with Arla and milk prices have been stable enough in 2018.

"Hopefully that will continue. There is a lot of change in the air right now and I’m glad in my new position with the NextGen group I will have more of a grasp on the political climate as well as a role to play in effecting change."

Colin’s journey in to agri-politics began when he graduated from Auchincruive, in Ayr, and joined Young Farmers at the age of 21 in Stranraer. In quick succession, he went on to be secretary, vice-chair and chair of his local club, keeping his finger on the ‘political pulse’ by attending SAYFC Agri-Affairs meetings, where he was able to get the 'bigger picture'.

“I had always been involved with the union but not at a committee level. Three years ago, through my involvement with SAYFC Agri-Affairs committee, I was invited to join the NFU Scotland’s Next Generation working group where I became the representative for Dumfries and Galloway and things have taken off from there,” he said.

“In 2017/18, I completed the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership programme, which gave me a real appetite for all things parliament and policy, and it began to strike me that in order to bring about changes in the sector you must get involved, instead of moaning from the benches. At the beginning of this year I travelled to the Oxford Farming Conference, sponsored by Scottish Enterprise and it was a real eye opener to see the impact you can make by making your voice heard by the right people,” he continued.

“Nine of us attended from the programme and everyone was so passionate and driven about making a difference – these are the kind of people who should be leading change in our sector. Soon after returning from the OFC, I attended the NextGen meeting where I was elected as the new chair of the committee. The appointment had been in my long-term sights, but I do believe it has come at an opportune time, when I have a real appetite to be in the thick of political discussion over the future of our sector,” Colin added.

“The main aim for the group is to push a big drive in engagement with next generation farmers and I want to hold an event in every region of Scotland which will get people together in all matter of events to show off a positive case for agriculture.

“There is a clear gap between leaving Young Farmers around 30 and joining the union in your 40s – once you have maybe had a family and it is these people that can often fall between the gaps and we want to stop that. After YFC there isn’t always somewhere for people to go or associate themselves with as a society, but that doesn’t mean their appetite for being involved has disappeared,” he pointed out.

“We know that with the NextGen group we are covering a huge remit and can’t get to every region but we are going to embrace technology and make better use of video conferencing so we can engage with more people across Scotland.”

Colin acknowledged that NFUS has recently taken steps to ensuring that there is more inclusive representation of farming families with introduction of a family membership: “There is nothing worse than when all the correspondence from the union goes straight to the head of the business and often this won’t get passed on to other participating members of that farming operation,” he stressed.

“It is fantastic that you can now become an associate member and get involved that way and through the Next Gen group, we will look to encourage more people to sign up to the membership. We want to move away from the idea of sons and daughters coming back home to the farm and the father retires to the union,” he continued. “Of course, we need the older voice on our boards, but we need the next generation of farmers getting involved, bringing up their concerns and being active in seeking solutions.”

Another development by NFUS which has received Colin’s backing is its Joint Venture Hub: “This is a great opportunity for new entrants to find land opportunities via what we refer to as a ‘Tinder’ for land opportunities. One example could be a retiring farmer might not want to sell his farm, but he can list his farm on this site and a younger farmer can approach him to take over a tenancy on his land,” he explained. “There are so many setbacks to new entrants these days whether its finding land, money, a tenancy and this new shared way of farming could be a great solution.”

He said that the industry needs to take greater pride in what it does and to make sure this message is communicated to the public: “We need to get better at telling the public what we do and showing off the best our industry has to offer. This means not leaving things lying on the side of the road and tidying up after ourselves. We need to learn to market our products better, because whatever you might say about the vegan movement, they're bloody good at PR.

“It is our responsibility to strengthen our connection with the public, so open up your businesses to farm visits, write a blog, record a podcast – start sharing the farming story and equipping the public with positive words to say about our fantastic industry,” Colin encouraged.