Lilliesleaf’s Rob, new farmers union vice-president, is keen to keep English customers

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IF Scotland voted for independence, the agricultural industry north of the border would want to keep affinity with its English customers.

The National Farmers Union of Scotland’s new vice-president, Rob Livesey, of Firth, Lilliesleaf, said: “The vast majority of our customers live south of the border and we don’t want to alienate them in any way. We need to maintain the integrity of the Scottish brand and we would want our customers to continue to feel an affinity with us.”

Otherwise, challenges he and fellow Borders farmer Nigel Miller, now in his second term as president of the union, face, include the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform set to be agreed this year.

Mr Livesey said: “It’s important to try and make it as fair as we can, so that it doesn’t discourage production.”

Farmers need to engage better with their customers, though he said their image had “improved greatly” in recent years thanks to food and other television programmes such as Country File and Channel 4’s First Time Farmers.

Attracting younger people into the industry is another priority.

“There are less people involved in farms and they are getting more aged. We need fresh ideas; younger people view the world differently and are generally more positive in their outlook,” he said.

There also needs to be fresh thinking on climate change.

He added: “If we have another year like this (last) one we will be in trouble. If last year was 150 years ago there would have been a famine, but because of technology and changes in the world, it wasn’t.”

He described as “disappointing” farmers still needing public money, saying: “Our farm profitability is less than the support we receive from EU funding. We need that support, but we need to work on our selling. But our product is perishable: when it’s ready it has to be sold and we have to accept that price.

“We really only have four or five major purchasers. The dominance of them (the large supermarket chains) has been a threat and I hope (new supermarket ombudsman) Christine Tacon may help to change some of that. People either pay for the product when they go to the supermarket or through taxes.”

Mr Livesey was elected unopposed at NFU Scotland’s AGM in St Andrews last week.

The livestock farmer, his wife Kath and sons Iain, who works at home, and Rory, a trainee auctioneer, tenant the 600-acre Firth Farm and rent and own a further 180 acres on which they run 1,100 Mules ewes, 80 Salers suckler cows and grow 120 acres of grain.

Mr Livesey is a former NFU Scotland Selkirk branch chairman and steps into his new role after heading up the union’s livestock committee for four years.

Before moving to Firth, Mr Livesey was farm manager at Glenapp Estate in Ayrshire when he was also chairman of the NFU Scotland Girvan branch.