More than 80 tractors from across the county took part in the Cumbria YFC tractor run in support of the closure-threatened Newton Rigg College, Penrith, on Sunday.
Tractors set off from Broughton in the south of the county, Drigg in the west and Longtown in the north towards Newton Reigny, with the lead tractors hauling a trailer carrying their key message — Protect our farming future, save Newton Rigg College.
Many thousands of young farmers have passed through the college’s doors since Newton Rigg opened, and the Cumbria YFC county office has been located at the campus for more than 80 years.
Cumbria YFC county president Mrs Judith Emmott said: “Newton Rigg is not just an agricultural college, it provides a variety of courses, giving young people amazing opportunities to further their education.
“It is where lifelong friendships are formed and it gives them the grounding and support that will set them up for life.
“For the agricultural students they have the benefit of a state-of-the-art dairy unit and the only working college hill sheep farm in the country.
“The investment in the facilities for the nurturing of students has been outstanding and as a county we must fight to keep the college moving forward.
“The number of students wanting to attend in the future is surely a sign that Newton Rigg is a vital educational facility that we must do everything possible to keep the college open.
“The tractor run is the young farmers’ way of showing everybody how much the college is valued.”
YFC county chairman Neil Curr also spoke of the damaging impact the closure of Newton Rigg would have on many young farmers and others in Cumbria.
He said: “We currently have over 1,500 members, many of whom attend or were planning on attending the college, making use of not only the farming and agricultural courses, but also forestry, agricultural engineering, animal care, public services, horticulture, game keeping, beauty and child care.
“The loss of the college would have a great impact on the future of many young people.
“The busy nature of farming means that, for many, travelling outside the county for education and training may not be an option, meaning learning and keeping up with new ideas may suffer.
“At a time when food standards, responsible farming and good quality home grown food are becoming more and more important, it is essential that Cumbria future proofs its farming and agriculture, ensuring it is fit for purpose.
“To do this we need to make sure that the farmers of the future have the best education and training possible.
“Cumbria is the second largest producer of milk and red meat in the country and it is really important that young people who work in or are wanting to work in agriculture and farming get the opportunity to access the most up-to-date technologies and developments to keep us at the top of the game.
“Without Newton Rigg College, the future and quality of farming within the county is at great risk.”
Originally planned for August, the tractor run was rescheduled due to coronavirus. With strict COVID-19 protocols in place and stewards on hand to direct proceedings, however, the young farmers were finally able to show their support for the college.
MP for Penrith and the Border Dr Neil Hudson welcomed the young farmers at the end of the run and spoke about his work in trying to secure a future for the college.
Dr Hudson said: “This is the next generation of farmers. They have shown loudly and clearly what this vital Cumbrian college means both to them and our UK farming future.
“We will keep working hard to try to save Newton Rigg, and the Government-led strategic review that I have triggered and is now evaluating management bids coming forward gives us the best chance of achieving that.”
The young farmers thanked those who helped with the tractor run, especially chief stewards Richard Gardiner, John Garnett, Alex Sibbald and Stephen Procter; Tony Blackburn, of Newton Tractor Centre, Newton Reigny, for the use of his field; and Mr and Mrs Blaylock, of Hallburn Farm, Longtown, for the use of their yard as a starting point.