by JENNY MONROE
Local members of the Young Farmers gather to show their opposition to the proposed cut in DARD funds US0611-404PM Pic
LOCAL members of the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) have condemned a proposal by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to cut 100 per cent of the structural funding to the organisation.
YFCU members have been told the deparmtent has classed the services the Association provides for rural young people as "non-essential".
But Ian Dunlop from Hillsborough YFCU says the proposals are seriously concerning and is calling on the Minister to review her proposal. He said: "If this goes ahead it will have severe implications for all the clubs. We have only been given until February 16 to respond to the proposal and I hope as many people as possible will voice their opinions to the Minister.
"It would be a serious blow to the farming industry which will affect the future of farming and the rural communities for years to come."
YFCU President Thoburn McCaughey said, "The Association is coming to the end of a very successful three year funding agreement with DARD during which time we have achieved and exceeded all of the objectives and targets we signed up to in 2008 and this news is simply bewildering".
Robert Preshaw who has been a member of the Hillhall club for almost six years, said it had given him the opportunity to take part in national and international exchanges, and the Arts Festival. "The YFCU encourage individual development and provide a wide range of skills which have proved invaluable as I set out in my career, and life in general" he said.
"I live on the outskirts of Lisburn and do not live on a farm. However, I am very much a 'Young Farmer' and can verify the excellent work performed by the YFCU. It is not an organisation solely for farmers: it reaches into the whole rural community, through the work of local clubs (run entirely by young volunteers).
"If DARD's proposals are adopted unamended, the effects will be felt at all levels throughout the entire organisation, and many of its campaigns and activities will be restricted, or simply lost altogether."
Local MLA Trevor Lunn said the proposal was "extremely disappointing" and "impossible to defend".
I realise that times are tough but to axe a funding stream completely rather than reduce it sends a message that the money either was not needed or was not being used correctly, neither reason applies in the case of the young farmers clubs. I hope the Minister is prepared to listen to reason in this case and will reconsider this decision" he said.
Alderman Jim Dillon described the proposal as "dreadful". "This proposal is short sighted and is another example of the Assembly not being fit to purpose" he said.
Councillor Margaret Tolerton, a former Young Farmers' ambassador, said the news would have severe consequences. "It provides a fantastic grounding for future life and you don't have to be involved in farming to be a member" she said.
Alderman Cecil Calvert said he was 'disgusted' at the proposed cuts.
"As a farmer I know first hand the invaluable work done by the YFCU in the province, I ask the question how can we attract young men and women into the industry if the government is not willing to support, educate and encourage the young people to come into farming?
"Farming is not just a job but a wonderful way of life to those who love nature and animals and not afraid of hard work. The YFCU clubs epitomises these values and are committed to fostering self reliance and encouraging individual development not to forget the support to charities across the province. Many farmers owe a debt of gratitude to the hands on support of the YFCU. Perhaps the Agricultural Minister could look at reducing one armchair general from her department which would more than pay for the funding of the YFCU."
Lagan Valley Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate Mark Hill said he too was concerned. "We all know the agricultural industry is a tough career for anyone to undertake. The passion and commitment that our Northern Ireland farmers have is commendable, and this is initiated in many by their time in the YFCU. This threat to the central structures of the YFCU is a threat to Northern Ireland farming's future."