Forth and Clyde Chairman Willie Harper's Blog - 18 December 2019

The best way for the next generation of Scotland’s farmers and crofters to have their voices heard and to shape their Union is to get involved, according to Forth and Clyde Chairman Willie Harper.

Throughout my time being involved with NFU Scotland I have been heartened and enthused by the passion and skill shown by the next generation rising through the ranks and this gives me great confidence for the future of NFUS as we continue in challenging times.
I was fortunate at the age of 24 to take on a farm tenancy at Gryffe Wraes Farm where I still farm alongside my wife Mairi and daughters, Emma and Olivia, who are keen members of West Renfrewshire young farmers. As someone who remembers being a young, fresh face at their local branch meeting (and remains young at heart!) it can seem daunting heading along to that initial meeting but in all my time as a member of NFUS I have had nothing but support and encouragement and hope that all those in the Forth and Clyde Region feel the same way. When I was first welcomed along to my local branch I remember thinking it was somewhat depressing and it wasn’t until I realised that I had the opportunity to change the mindset and create a more jovial and diverse meeting that I fully engaged, becoming Vice Chair of the branch where I was able to shape the direction from the inside, rather than criticising and leaving others to do the job.

In the Forth and Clyde Region we have been very fortunate to have had such an engaged Next Generation. This has been led by Mark Donald, Jen Craig, Jenny Baillie and Chris Scott-Park. I first met Mark and Harriet Donald when they attended NFUS’ 100th Anniversary Dinner and the region was keen to support them as they had recently taken on a ten year Starter Farm tenancy with the Forestry Commission. Nearly seven years on, Mark is now Balfron and Menteith Branch Chair and Forth and Clyde Regional Chair, having stood down as NFUS’ Next Generation Chair last year. This allowed the region a great insight into the Next Generation group and encouraged others to also get involved. Forth and Clyde now has a number of young members who hold positions or represent the region on commodity committees. In many cases this has reinvigorated branches and led to a different audience with different ideas.

The key to engaging the next generation has been identify topics and people that interest them and providing links to their networks whilst encouraging their engagement. As a region we have consciously taken the decision to hold specific Next Generation events that target that younger audience and that looks at different topics such as diversification, adding value and marketing. Our most recent event was at Eden Leisure Village with over 50 attendees of a mixture of ages and gender.

All regions in NFUS are always looking for new people to come forward and many branches would in particular be delighted to see some fresh blood. Often those who are monitors or elected representatives have done so for a number of years and would happily move aside to support the next generation. The only way the next generation can see real change and advocate for their industry is by getting involved and stepping forward. The diversity in Scottish farming and crofting is something to be widely celebrated so make sure you engage to ensure your voice is counted.

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