New NFU region chairman to target nitrate zones

Stuart McNicol at his farm Castleton, North Berwick.
Stuart McNicol at his farm Castleton, North Berwick.

East Lothian arable farmer Stuart McNicol is in his first month as the new chairman of the Lothian and Borders region of NFU Scotland.

Making a contribution through the union is in the genes for the 36-year-old of Castleton Farm, North Berwick: his great grandfather started the East Lothian branch in 1917.

Stuart said: “It’s a great privilege to be chairman of the region especially when we have the president Nigel Miller and one of the vice presidents, Rob Livesey both from Lothian and Borders. I have a great regional board who bring different skills and knowledge to the table.”

Stuart’s family moved from Paisley to the farm in 1908, buying the 425-acre unit in 1921.

He and his wife Jo (nee Swan of Blackhouse, Duns, whose grandfather Willie, was a past union president) grow winter wheat for distilling, malting spring barley on contract and winter oilseed rape for cooking oil. They have diversified into storage and property lets, a self-catering cottage and created Castleton Events, a company hosting any event requiring a marquee which they set up on the farm next to Tantallon Castle.

The dad-of-two is past vice chairman and chairman of the East Lothian branch and is doing the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Program. He is also on the East Lothian Rural Forum and the East Lothian Educational Trust.

Earlier in his career he worked on different farms and in Australia, experiencing potato planting, cereals, dairy, vineyard, sheep and cattle stations.

He told us: “I’m interested in lobbying parliament and getting the right legislation passed in Parliament which’ll work for the relevant sector - and getting politicians and their sub committees out onto working farms so they can see for themselves what actually happens.

“The world population is growing, they need our produce but with the uncertainty of the CAP reform process and Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) restrictions, it’s putting our farmers at a disadvantage to the rest of the market place due to increased costs.”

He said: “We need to secure meaningful CAP reform outcomes that reduce the financial concerns being spoken about by all sectors. We need workable solutions for our livestock keepers and common sense brought into the greening proposals for arable farmers.

“We will also be trying to persuade the Scottish Government to deliver a logical outcome to the NVZ re-designation and reduce the impact that these rules have on the region.”

He explained: “If you farm in Scotland and a field opposite you on the other side of the Tweed is farmed in exactly the same way and sold to the same grain trader as you, they will get more for that produce as they aren’t in a NVZ area. They [English counterparts)] have the same catchment area as you but not the same cross border regulations: that makes our farmers uncompetitive.”

Lothians vice chairman is Kelvin Pate of Aikeyside, Haddington. The Borders vice chairman will be elected at March’s board meeting.