Borders farmer collects top title

Farmer of the year Robert Neill with Gyles Brandreth and Karl Schneider.
Farmer of the year Robert Neill with Gyles Brandreth and Karl Schneider.

A Jedburgh farmer has been named the best in the country at this year’s Farmers Weekly awards.

Robert Neill, of Upper Nisbet, picked up the trophy for farmer of the year at the annual awards last week.

Overall Farmer of the Year  Robert Neill with Gyles Brandreth, Karl Schneider (editor for Farmers Weekly) and Conner McVeigh (from the sponsors  McDonalds)

Overall Farmer of the Year  Robert Neill with Gyles Brandreth, Karl Schneider (editor for Farmers Weekly) and Conner McVeigh (from the sponsors  McDonalds)

Praised for his attention to detail and his promise that “every day is an open day” in his quest to promote British agriculture, Robert first picked up the mixed farm of the year award before being announced overall champion out of the 15 category winners announced at the ceremony in London last week.

He said: “I do try to promote agriculture and how and where food is produced.

“You’d be surprised how many youngsters, even in the Borders, don’t associate food with a farm, so I work to bring school kids onto the farm to show them. We have a dedicated trailer for giving tours. I’m told I’m never at home.”

There is no aspect of his business that Robert, 49, is afraid to put on display, and he and his wife Jacqueline have hosted numerous visitors since taking over the tenancy at Upper Nisbet, part of the estate of the 13th Marquis of Lothian, Michael Ancram, in 2000.

Over the last 17 years, the farm has grown to include nearby Ploughlands and Ormiston Mains, hosting a mix of livestock and crops across 1,550 acres.

Robert, whose sons Andrew, 18, and Harry, 15, help out on the farm alongside two full-time staff, also continues to work closely with the rest of his farming family in north Northumberland.

His brothers Tom and David, run the Neill’s farm there, specialising in dairy and sheep respectively, while his parents George and Mary keep a hand in at every opportunity.

“We work together quite a bit and help each other out at busy times. It’s a real family affair,” Robert added.

“I was the one that collected the award, but, to be honest, it’s the team behind me that really got the award. It’s good for the area and everybody we work with too. I must say a big thank you to the team at home as it’s not an award without our family and staff.”

Robert was previously named beef farmer of the year at the same awards in 2006 but admits his double win came as a total surprise. “I had no idea,” he added. “It was a big shock as I wasn’t expecting it at all.”

He will now be invited to judge at next year’s awards.

Karl Schneider, Farmers Weekly editorial director said: “He’s a great example of how caring for the environment and good business can go hand-in-hand - and he’s doing a fantastic job in promoting farming to the wider community. In summary, a wonderful ambassador for all that is great about British farming.”

Writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth presented the awards in front of more than 1000 guests at the Grosvenor House – AJW Marriott Hotel on London’s Park Lane.

The Farmers Weekly Awards recognise and reward farmers for innovation, commitment to the industry and hard work. The Awards showcase the best farmers in the country by telling their stories. They aim to spread best practice, inspire others and influence the public about the role that the farmers play in today’s society.

The distinctive, round, yellow wall plaque has become a symbol of the innovation and achievements of more than 500 outstanding farmers.