More than just a farming ‘night at the museum’ in Co. Down

Farming through the ages is set to come to life in Co. Down this weekend as part of an Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) centenary celebration event.

The organisation has witnessed many challenges and political changes over the years including both world wars and the partition of Ireland as well as the BSE crisis in 1996 and the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001.

100 years of farming challenges

Many challenges still face farming, but over the last 100 years some of the biggest have included:

1918 – Women in farming: The UFU was one of the first organisations to grant women members equal rights and privileges. Edith Copes, Dorothy Robertson, and Mary Wilson were among the early supporters.

April 1919 – First AGM: At this point over 70 branches affiliated with the UFU across the nine counties of Ulster. 120 meetings were held in the first year.

1939 – Start of Second World War: UK government agrees to buy all food at fixed prices. Evening meetings of union branches were cancelled on account of ‘blackout’ restrictions and petrol rationing.

1943 – Increasing output: Northern Ireland farmers raise output to £44 million. Exports of 360 million eggs and 20,000 gallons of fresh milk were shipped to GB. The same year a record-breaking acreage of crops was grown and yields were harvested.

January 1954 – Return of free markets: Northern Ireland farmers face price differences compared to their GB counterparts. The UFU organises a mass meeting of 1,800 farmers to demand price parity with Britain.

1974 – Support breakdown: After entry into the EEC, UK support arrangements for beef break down and prices for cattle collapse. UFU organises a protest of 5,000 farmers with 3,500 tractors and combines across the province.

1996 – BSE crisis: EU Commission imposes a world-wide ban on all British beef exports. UFU secures a scheme to slaughter and destroy all cattle over the age of 30 months.

2001 – Foot and Mouth: Foot and Mouth is found in the GB and Northern Ireland. UFU works with the government to stop the spread of disease.

2013 – Storms: Northern Ireland is hit by a severe snowstorm. Thousands of sheep and cattle perished. UFU secures fallen stock scheme, fodder scheme and £3 million hardship fund.

June 2016 – UK votes to leave the EU: Development of new UK agriculture policy gets underway.

Newly-appointed president Ivor Ferguson said he is looking forward to welcoming visitors to the museum.

“We have been defending the rights of farmers and promoting their interests since our formation in 1918 and we are as relevant now as we were back then,” he said.

L-R: Ivor Ferguson, UFU president; and Grace Williams, Air Ambulance NI; with museum visitor guides Gillian Baird; and Harry Hamilton.

“We are excited to be hosting this special event at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the perfect setting to help us reflect on a century of farming, and we hope many people will join us to look back on the farming industry and celebrate our centenary.”

Some of the activities planned over the weekend include a sheepdog demonstration, a ploughing demonstration with horses, farming-themed craft activities for children and a family trail around the museum.

There will also be displays by the Irish Moiled Cattle Society, the Donkey Breeds Society and Friends of Ferguson.

On display will be a range of UFU memorabilia showing artefacts relating to its work since 1918.

As part of the centenary fundraising effort for Air Ambulance NI, the reserve helicopter will also be on site, dependent on its availability.

There will also be a ‘Bake-off for Take-off’ cake sale where home-made breads, cakes and sweet items will be sold and visitors will be able to enjoy a horse and cart ride around the museum for a donation.