Before leaving Tasmania I elected to study the issue of increasing and maintaining membership and improving the organisation as a whole. Thankfully during the course of this exchange I had the chance to travel with nine other delegates from New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Switzerland, not to mention all of the Canadian Junior Farmers who hosted us throughout the summer. Each of these delegates and representatives of clubs discussed similar issues facing their organisation which is just one of the reasons why these exchange programs are a vital way of sharing ideas. In terms of a definitive answer to this issue, I don't think there is one but the answer may lie in trial and error, learning from the experience of others and having to ability to try something new. Within this report I intend to outline some of the ideas which I have learnt about during my exchange.
Junior Farmers of Ontario run an exchange program which could have a number of benefits for our organisation. In their model, delegates arrive from all over the world at the same time each year and travel to each county as a group. The first benefit for our organisation would be that Rural Youth members would know in advance when delegates were to arrive and would therefore be more prepared for the hosting process. Similar to our organisation, Junior Farmers of Ontario find it difficult to find host families for delegates, however with this model all delegates are hosted by the same club or region for a period of one to two weeks. At first glance this may seem more stressful although clubs only have to host once a year, activities especially designed for delegates only have to be organised once a year, tours are much easier to organise for ten as opposed to one delegate and transporting delegates to different activities could be worked on a rotational basis between club members. As a delegate, we sometimes shared households, beds and slept on fold out couches, all of which were very comfortable especially in light of the fact that so many activities were planned that we only went home to sleep for a few hours. Secondly, the major benefit for the delegate is that stressful situations such as having to live out of a backpack, being in a different environment, changing hosts on a weekly basis or feeling homesick are made less taxing given the fact that the delegates bond and become the 'constant', not to mention lifelong friends. This bond is also an attraction to hosts who follow the delegates far and wide to attend Junior Farmers social events to catch up with each other again. Thirdly, it is a fantastic way for share ideas not only with your host country but those from like organisations worldwide. The only foreseeable down side to this model is that some clubs would have to join together host a number of delegates, it could be stressful for the exchange coordinator to organise and/or deal with classes in personalities of delegates.
New Zealand Young Farmer of the Year Competition
Similar to our organisation, the Young Farmer of the Year Competition in New Zealand is run much in the same vein as our competition although everything is on a much bigger scale. However, given that this competition has developed over time, there are elements of New Zealand's version which could benefit and improve our current participation rate and competition.
Akin to the current competition, competitors undertake a range of tasks based on practical farming skills, business management and social skills. Tasks could be based on any of the following:
- Mainstream agriculture for example fencing, swinging gates, setting up a hand piece, making fence posts, changing tyres on vehicles other than cars, fire fighting, fencing, building, drenching or occupational health and safety.
- Developing sectors of agriculture.
- Real life problem solving.
- Understanding and applying knowledge of sponsor's products.
- Written business management assignments.
- A quiz/contest – 'Sale of the Century' style - based on agricultural and general knowledge questions.
- A formal speech and dinner which is hosted by a comedian to ease the nerves of contenders.
- An interview in front of a panel to gain opinions and understanding of current issues facing the agricultural sector.
Probably the main difference between the two competitions is a component called agri-sport which is partly due to the larger nature of the New Zealand competition and the public following. Agri-sport is essentially a farming decathlon which test speed, skill and stamina in a range of agricultural related tasks. Points are awarded for both quality of the job and time taken and set tasks can gain double points. The organisation also runs a junior agri-sport for school age children based on chores they may be responsible for at home. The junior competition is run on the day of the national final and is designed to equip children with the skills to compete in later years and potentially enter the agricultural field as a career path. A newsletter specifically dedicated to the competition is released monthly and outlines competition rules, timetables, venues, contact details and words of advice from previous winners.
The Young Farmer of the Year competition is for New Zealand what Agfest is for Tasmanian Rural Youth. It is a showcase of what a volunteer organisation can do when members work together towards a goal. We already have a fantastic competition which has evolved over time but consideration of new ideas can only assist in the ongoing success of the competition.
United Kingdom Young Farmers
Young Farmers in the United Kingdom has an organisation which is structured similar to ours although they accept members as young as 12 and membership terminates at 26. Young Farmers boast thousands of members throughout the United Kingdom, most of which they credit to the competition between clubs. In terms of what the organisations offers which differs to ours lies in the promotional material which focuses on the educational benefits of joining such as gaining a Duke of Edinburgh award and learning through participation in one of the three competitions; agriculture, culture and arts and sports.
Agricultural competitions centre on the following activities:
- Dairy judging and assessment
- Beef judging and assessment
- Sheep stock judging and assessment
- Soil assessment
- Silage making
- Silage assessment
- Tractor handling
- Sheep shearing
- Young Farmer of the Year
Culture and Arts competitions centre on the following activities:
- Arts festival
- Demonstration and/or presentation
- One act drama festival
- Group debating
- Full length drama competition
- Floral art
- Something from scrap
- Public speaking
- Home management
- Member of the year
Sports competitions centre on the following activities:
- The John Bradley Challenge – set by head office each year to encourage members to try something new and unusual
- Tug o' war
- Swimming gala
- A number of sporting rosters run by clubs or regions depending on time of year and facilities in the local area
Given that there is such an extensive range of competitions on offer, handbooks are comprehensive and members are provided with syllabus booklets which outline dates, venues, contacts and events. Obviously in this model there are a lot more organisational issues and a reliance on members to do their jobs although given that the organisation encourages members to join from a wide variety of backgrounds there is a greater pool of members to share the responsibility.
By no means are the ideas I have learnt about all applicable to our organisation or something that can be implemented overnight although they may be worth consideration for the sustainability of the organisation. One thing that seemed to be central to the success of all organisations was effective promotion within the community, state and country. For example the Junior Farmers of Ontario make it a goal every year that each club has to try to have their club mentioned in a positive light in the media three times a year. This is on top of promotional material which is produced on an organisational level.
I would like to thank my sponsors, the Country Club Casino who have provided me with an opportunity of a lifetime to travel, experience another culture and meet so many fantastic people, many of which will become my lifelong friends.