When is a Young Farmers Club not a Young Farmers Club? When it is an Agricultural Discussion Society, of course.
Actually there is only one ADS in the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Club, and it is celebrating its 80th anniversary right now.
Bell Baxter ADS has proudly retained its name through thick and thin. Indeed, it was a condition of joining up with SAYFC that not only should it keep the title but also its own constitution.
Bell Baxter ADS was actually well-established by the time SAYFC was formed as a federal body in 1938 and, what is more, the Fife club had a healthy bank balance making it well worth wooing.
The Cupar-based club’s origins actually go back further than its 1933 incorporation.
The depression had bitten hard on farming families so that by 1930 many could no longer afford to send their offspring to college. Many were pupils at Bell Baxter, and a far-sighted director of education decided that offering night classes in agriculture would not only serve the area well but make full use of a new block of buildings.
And so the Bell Baxter Continuation School was born, with a comprehensive course in agricultural science developed by Charlie McIntyre of the Edinburgh and East of Scotland College of Agriculture and John Lamb, science teacher at Bell Baxter.
Writing in a 1967 club magazine, Mr McIntyre recalled that on the first night only three students enrolled.
However, he persevered and before long the classrooms were full four nights a week.
It was a three-year course, and the fee was five shillings for each 30-week course.
By 1933 it was decided that there was perhaps too much work and not enough time for socialising. The answer, modest as it might seem now, was to have one evening each month set aside for a talk or debate on the topics of the day. So, in December 1933 was born Bell Baxter Agricultural Discussion Society.
The first talk was given by Mr ASB Wilson of Boghall Experimental Farm at Penicuik.
A month later Walter Smith and James Logan carried the vote on the motion “that sugar beet should be grown more widely in Fife”.
They were opposed by John Arbuckle and Andrew Buttercase.
By 1936 the club had rather daringly admitted girl members, and even allowed them to take part in the debates.
The outbreak of war in 1939 and the resulting shortage of fuel meant travelling to meetings was restricted, and the ADS was suspended for the duration.
There was a change of heart by 1943, with the authorities realising that if food production was to be maximised young farmers had to learn the latest techniques.
Courier cuttings show that this was a time of earnest intent.
In March 1945 the subject up for debate was whether there should be full mechanisation on farms after the war. Jack Roger proposed the motion and attracted 19 votes. His opponent on the evening, Dan Hamilton, mustered 37 votes with most of his supporters wanting to see horses back on the land alongside the tractors.
Time was soon to tell a different story, of course.
Just as with every other Young Farmers Club in the country, Bell Baxter was to thrive in the post-war period and build up an enviable reputation as a marriage bureau. Most on-line dating agencies nowadays would look with envy at the success rate of Bell Baxter and its neighbouring clubs.
The general tone was still serious, though. An early post-war field day in those pre Health and Safety days featured a tractor-reversing race for the boys and a nail hammering contest for the girls.
In the Courier of November 14 1953, the farming reporter carried the story of Bell Baxter’s 20th anniversary under the headline Juniors’ Club Isn’t So Young. The anniversary was marked by a Monday evening dinner in Cupar.
The best days were still to come. By the 1960s the club had around 140 members, not only making it one of the largest in the country but, as this writer can testify, a force to be reckoned with in East Area competitions.
Such was the strength of the club that it was able to produce its own 65-page year-book. Intriguingly, given that this was a good 30 years before rap music was invented, this excellent publication was entitled Be Ba Yo Fa.
Bell Baxter has, to its credit, endured as a leading club while others some of them large in their heyday have fallen by the wayside.
Although present numbers stand lower than in former years, mirroring the pattern for clubs across the country, at approximately 30, Bell Baxter ADS secretary Lucy Baker said club teams and events continue to go from strength to strength.
“Over the last 10 years the club has done more and more to engage with wider member interests,” explained Lucy.
“We’ve now taken part in the East Region Cabaret competition for the last nine consecutive years, taking wins in 2007 and 2010.
“We’ve also increased the amount of sporting activities, and this has been rewarded by recent wins in the East Area Rally in 2010, the East Golf competition in 2012 and the East Area Football just last year.”
The Bell Baxter girls also put on a sterling performance in the finals of the tug of war competition at last year’s Royal Highland Show, ending in overall third, while several members, both male and female, have reached the final for Member of the Year over the last few years.
SAYFC chief executive Penny Montgomerie, a former Bell Baxter member, said the success of the club shines through because it plays such an active role across the Young Farmers’ movement.
“Bell Baxter has always been a very good club at participating in Young Farmers competitions, no matter the level,” she said.
“Like any club, its membership has fluctuated over the years and it has dealt with issues such as recruitment that have been a problem countrywide, but it has never ceased to play an active role in the vast majority of local, regional and national competitions.
“It is supported by a great group of members.”
The 80th anniversary is to be marked by a dinner dance on Saturday, March 1, at the Apex Hotel in Dundee.