Farmer of the Year to Judge Champion of Champions

Robert Neill, of Upper Nisbet Farm, near Jedburgh, is used to being in the limelight. He was the Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year in 2017, having already won Mixed Farmer of the Year in the same competition and beating off fourteen other finalists.

All eyes will be upon him when he steps into the main arena at this year’s Northumberland County Show as Robert Neill must select the ultimate winner from a line-up of champion livestock in the Grand Parade, choosing from the stars of the Cattle, Sheep, Heavy Horse and Alpaca Sections.

Robert Neill

Robert Neill

The JS Hubbuck’s Champion of Champions trophy is the silverware every competitor dreams of holding and as Robert Neill knows from personal experience, the prize brings considerable prestige and honour to the winner. He told us, “About ten years ago, when my sons Andrew and Harry were little, I had a herd of pedigree Limousins and we used to go to the County Show to take part in the Young Handlers Classes. The boys loved it. Unfortunately, I don’t sell pedigree stock now, and with Andrew studying Agriculture at SRUC, Edinburgh and Harry doing his A-levels, there isn’t as much time for showing cattle. I’m looking forward to judging at this year’s Northumberland County Show; it’s a real honour to be asked!”

James Wardle, Show Director, explained, “Choosing the right person is very important for this role. It needs someone well respected within the industry, and with an eye for quality. Robert is a terrific all-rounder, with experience of dairy, sheep and beef farms, plus excellent equestrian credentials from Point to Point and hunting. He even has hens and four Kune Kune pigs! We are delighted to welcome him as our judge.”

Robert is the eldest of three sons, the third generation to farm near Yetholm, at the foot of the Cheviots. His brother Tom runs a successful dairy operation at the family farm, while youngest brother David has sheep. Robert took the tenancy at Upper Nisbet in 2000 and enjoys a good working relationship with his landlord, Lothian Estate, allowing his business to expand by taking on two neighbouring farms. Robert’s herd of Limousin Friesians are the produce of the heifer calves from his brother’s dairy farm sired by a Black Limousin, and then crossed with a Limousin or Angus to create an excellent beef carcase. Robert sells his meat weekly to butchers at the local mart in St. Boswells. These butchers are also supplying local hotels and restaurants.  He said,
“The chefs and hotel owners come nearly every month to see the cattle. Their customers love to know the provenance of their meat and it benefits the restaurateur, retailer and our business in that the farm is identified on menus and price lists.”

Robert welcomes many visitors to his farm, and as a past Director of The Royal Highland Educational Trust (RHET), he regularly hosts school visits to help children understand where their food comes from and gain knowledge about farming and the countryside. There are so many visits that he has a 24-seat transport trailer fitted with seats and seat belts to tow young visitors around the farm in safety. Robert is an active NFU member and facilitates discussion groups to help promote best practice and raising farming issues with legislators. He has recently been appointed Chair of AgriScot; the huge one day industry event held every November at Ingliston near Edinburgh. “The event used to be for dairy farmers but now it brings together all aspects of agriculture with over two hundred and fifty trade stands, seminars and events. Every square metre is full.” Robert told us. It was this additional commitment to the wider community, and his promotion of all that is great about British farming, that led the judges at the Farmer’s Weekly awards to select him as the Farmer of the Year.

When asked about the importance of shows and farming events, Robert said, “Farming can be a very lonely job, and some farmers may never see each other apart from at the mart. Shows provide an important social event as well as a great place to do business.” He added, “Especially in these current times, when farmers feel under attack from all sides, agricultural shows and events offer a shop window to the public, and give us a chance to show off what we do and produce. I think it’s important to stay positive, keep moving forward and keep encouraging the younger generation.”

We asked Robert what he would look for in his choice of winner and he knew immediately. “The X-Factor! There will be something special about the winning animal, combined with the passion and pride of its owner that will add that extra sparkle.”

Northumberland County Show

  Related Links
link Are You a Shepherd or Shepherdess of the Future?
link Booths Supermarket is a Mainline sponsor for NSA North Sheep
link European Tour on Offer for Winner at UK Dairy Expo 2019
link Dairy-Tech secures itself as Leading Innovation Show
link Agricultural Show Dates