FW Awards 2017: Mixed Farmer of the Year

Successful mixed farming is not just keeping on top of multiple enterprises simultaneously, but also making sure they each work to the benefit of the others and Robert Neill has come up with a winning formula on his 600ha tenancy near Kelso in the Scottish Borders.

The light, free-draining soil is restored by regular applications of farmyard manure from the farm’s 1,000 head of beef cattle, while they in turn are kept well fed by high-quality rotational grass and barley.

See also: 2017 FW Awards: Mixed Farmer of the Year finalists

Robert Neill

Upper Nisbet Farm, Jedburgh, Roxburghshire

Robert Neill with beef animals

Robert Neill © Angus Findlay

Winning ways

  • Treated rotational grass as a crop, which helped to improve silage quality and provide clean entry points for arable seed production
  • Manages a spring block-calving herd on a variety of diets to have cattle ready for slaughter throughout the year
  • Open to new technology to cut workloads
  • Strong environmental credentials has seen carbon emissions cut by 19%, cattle barred from all flowing water and winter stubbles maintained for brown hare habitat

But what elevates this simple-sounding system from the myriad other businesses doing variations on this common theme is how Robert and his dedicated team continually fine-tune each performance-influencing factor.

This is symbolised by their attitude to improving the data on cattle performance.

It is useful to both their loyal customers at St Boswells Mart and themselves for analysing cow and ration performance.

Not content with monitoring fat cattle daily liveweight gains by running them through a state-of-the-art crush with weigh bars fitted, they have recently installed automatic weighing stations at water troughs within the shed.

This has reduced the amount of work needed to gather the information, and there are plans to improve the system further to benefit their butcher customers, by installing cameras above the drinkers which can assess carcass grades on a regular basis.

A visit to Upper Nisbet will reveal the secret to being a successful farmer is that there is no secret – all that is required is to measure everything that is controllable – and act upon the conclusions.

Mixed Farmer of the Year 2017 is sponsored by Bridgestone

Finalists were:

  • Emily Norton, Nortons Dairy, Frettenham, Norfolk
  • Neil McGowan, Incheoch Farm, Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross