Beef farm’s final destiny

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BORDERS farmers Robert and Jacqueline Neill are finalists in the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year award.

The new accolade, run by Agriscot and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), is aimed at highlighting excellence in Scotland’s cattle production and raising the profile of beef farmers’ dedication and stock management skills.

Farmers had to be nominated for the award which was launched in July.

Mr Neill, of Upper Nisbet, near Jedburgh, said: “I’m chuffed to bits to be in the final. It’s quite an achievement and it’s good that somebody nominated us and thinks we are worthy of entering the competition.”

The award judges, including celebrity chef Brian Turner, visited the three finalists earlier this month.

Television chef Mr Turner, whose CV lists Claridges and the Savoy Grill as former employers, described all three as “dedicated, focused and experts in their field”.

Mr Neill said Mr Turner and fellow judges – QMS chairman Jim McLaren, award co-ordinator John Elliot and Airdrie beef farmer Jim Brown – were keeping their cards close to their chest: “There were a lot of questions being fired, but not a lot of feedback!”

But he thinks they liked the fact the Neills run a closed farm, controlling the beef they produce from “conception to consumer”.

The pair run 300 Limousin cross cows, along with 10 pedigree Limousin cows, eight pedigree Limousin bulls and two pedigree British Blue bulls on the 1,080-acre unit, 650 of which are in cereals.

The Neills settled on the Limousin cross because that was what butchers buying at the John Swan’s mart in St Boswells were looking for.

“They get a good kill-out percentage and value for their money. You have got to produce what the customer wants,” said Mr Neill.

And generally? “My aim is to improve the facility and get the infrastructure right to run a profitable and good business, and just do the job right and have a niche market and pay attention to the details,” said Mr Neill.

The former Farmers’ Weekly Beef Farmer of the Year is regularly top or thereabouts in the Christmas sale at St Boswells, and Upper Nisbet is currently a climate change focus farm involved in the Scottish Government’s “Farming for a Better Climate” initiative, run by SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College.

Mr McLaren said of the finalists: “The three businesses are very different types of units, but each shares an unmistakable drive for innovation and efficiency. The energy and enthusiasm those involved in the three farms showed us was matched by their commitment to the future and passion for the industry.”

The winner will be announced at Agriscot at Ingliston on Wednesday (November 21) and receive a £500 cheque and a £250 voucher to celebrate their success at a Scotch Beef Club restaurant.