The Scottish Farmer hears from SAYFC’s national chair Jane Strawhorn as she reflects on her year in office.

It has been almost an entire calendar year since I took over from Lucy Mitchell as the national chairperson for SAYFC. I have always found it funny when people would say to me that it would be the quickest year of my life, but I cannot believe that I am now about to close the final chapter of my young farmers’ career.

This past year has been a whirlwind which has seen this already incredible organisation continue to go from strength to strength – and that is down to our dedicated members, valued stakeholders, staff, friends, sponsors, and supporters.

The Scottish Farmer: Jane Strawhorn during her trip to Rwanda during 2023Jane Strawhorn during her trip to Rwanda during 2023 (Image: web)

Our members have continued to shine over the last 12 months, putting their absolute all into every event whether it be to raise money, a competition, or just to have fun.

The Royal Highland Show is always a highlight and 2023 was no exception. Our members descended on the show in their usual manner and excelled across the board whether it was in a young farmers’ competition or RHASS event. I know how hard all our competitors work throughout the year in order to compete at the show and you are all a credit to the organisation.

And what a show it was: our prestigious stockmanship programme saw a massive increase in participation this year; our tug of war teams put on an exhilarating performance in front of a packed crowd at the main rings; and our centre was transformed once again with handicrafts displays, photography and craftsmanship of an incredible standard. From first-hand experience, I know how demanding handicrafts can be but the rewards and skills you learn are truly invaluable.

The entire week is the epitome of what it is to be a young farmer and its success is down to the hard work and determination of our members.

Our Five Star Awards returned in November in conjunction with our Agri and Rural Affairs conference. This is always a highlight on the national calendar as it’s a real opportunity to showcase and celebrate our members and everything they’ve achieved. All winners and finalists covered the length of the country and showcased the high standard of members we attract.

These members are all incredible supporters of SAYFC but also find time to support other organisations, and are a credit to their clubs and to young farmers. We also were able to crown a new Young Farmer of the Year on the night and congratulations to David Smith from Crossroads YF on taking the crown.

Recently there has been a question that I have been asked more than any and that is ‘what has been your highlight?’. When I was West chair the Talentspot competition being impossible to top, but national is a much harder answer to come up with. Now, having spent time thinking about it, it has to be attending and celebrating 100 years of Caithness district. It was a privilege to be invited to deliver a toast to Caithness at their dinner dance back in November and to share in the celebrations with our oldest district.

It was an incredible weekend from start to finish even with Ally’s (vice-national chair, Ally Brunton) poor driving and my excellent directions, and I am grateful for the hospitality of everyone and the warm welcome we both received. It’s a celebration I will never forget, and I am extremely grateful to have shared it with everyone.

Our national competitions weekend saw members descend on Dundee or ‘Fundee’ as it’s now affectionately known, to watch the rugby and, of course, compete in a competition or two. The new format for this saw for a busy Saturday but it would take more than that to faze our members. The competitive nature of our members really shone, and that wasn’t just my bowling on the Friday night.

The weekend was a roaring success, and all our members should be immensely proud of themselves. The national senior speechmaking competition was as fiery as ever with the Crossroads team taking the trophy back to Ayrshire. Member of the Year was another hotly contested competition this year with Stewartry member Abby Forsyth coming out on top – she is an asset to the organisation and truly a model young farmer. Congratulations again, Abby!

Of course, with all this reflection comes immense sentimentality. I have been very lucky to have the young farmers’ experience that I have had. I also know how lucky I have been in the people I have around me who have shaped that experience.

Thank you doesn’t feel big enough for those people, but it does seem like a good starting point. I’ve had the most incredible time but most importantly of all, I’ve had fun and that is what I would encourage you all to remember – it is at the heart of everything we do. Make sure you enjoy everything you do, seize every opportunity and even if you’re scared, give it a go! Young Farmers gives us the best years of all our lives so don’t let anything go by without giving it your all.

As I get ready to hand over the reins to Ally in April, I can say without hesitation that SAYFC is being left in incredibly capable hands and I cannot wait to see what he has planned for the next 12 months. Most of all, I cannot wait to see how SAYFC continues to flourish and with membership at its highest since 2018, what our new and current members continue to achieve.