Nigel’s up for the presidential fight

Stagehall farmer Nigel Miller who is bidding to become the president of N.F.U. Scotland.
Stagehall farmer Nigel Miller who is bidding to become the president of N.F.U. Scotland.

HUSTINGS night in the Borders for NFU Scotland ‘high heid yin’ hopefuls is at The Lodge, Carfraemill, on January 10.

Current vice-presidents and farmers Nigel Miller, of Stow, and Allan Bowie, from Fife, are going for the top job.

Mr Miller, 56, joined the livestock committee after the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak and chaired it for eight years before becoming vice-president.

A trained vet, he and his family farm Stagehall, a 1,200-acre Macaulay grade 5 LFA unit where they grow fodder and spring barley for feed, and run 170 cows and 900 ewes.

He said: “I recognise the huge challenge and the crucial period we farmers are approaching. The shadow of a dysfunctional market hangs over many farms, Government budgets are being stripped back, we face a new CAP, the potential of change to LFASS, while climate change and food security are growing priorities.”

On CAP reform, Mr Miller said Brian Pack’s proposals put Scotland ahead of most other member states and set out “fundamental principals which have widespread support – the focus on food production, the mechanisms which will ensure that support is directed to active farmers and the use of top-ups to fine-tune payments to particular farm systems”.

He added: “Farmers are in general positive about Brian’s view of non-lfa support; it is both simple and flexible.

“The LFA package, however, looks complex and there appears to be gaps in support with the more heavily stocked beef and dairy units being significant losers. Those involved with alternative livestock systems – deer, goats or camelids – are excluded from key top-up payments.

“These LFA issues are a priority for regions like the Borders where on many farms livestock outputs are high with significant feed and labour costs. It is these farms which act as an engine for the rural economy. Their future is vital for food security and for the region.”

Final agreement on the CAP reform is two years away and he said: “It is important that we continue to develop Scotland’s position if we are to make best use of future European support.”

He says getting Scotland’s fair share of the CAP budget is a more pressing issue.

“It is vital that spend (subsidy) is maintained or we will all lose. Scotland’s share of the CAP spend is well below the average both at EU and UK levels which gives momentum to any negotiation. It is vital that the UK and Scottish governments actively fight for our budget. Scotland must also be at the centre of any debate if redistribution gains political momentum to ensure that we are not disadvantaged.

“The union must do the groundwork with MSPs, MPs and MEPs while ensuring we have allies in Europe when decisions are made.

And he added: “Behind the headline issues there is the ever-present pressure of cross-compliance penalties, pressure which escalates as EU auditors demand more robust action by member states.

“Without a more proportional approach active farming will be strangled. It must be a union priority to challenge this tide of regulation.”

As FWAG Scotland chairman, Mr Miller led a doomed but strong fight for the charity last year after Government pulled its support and he has been a central figure bargaining with Europe to try to make electronic (EID) sheep tagging workable.

The NFUS presidency, he says, is about who can drive change and who can give the union team energy.

“I hope I can do both. I have energy, I’m open to change, I’m committed to Scottish farming, I have experience working at Scottish, UK and European level and I’m determined to keep in touch with the grass roots.”

Elections for the NFUS president and vice-presidents will take place at the union’s council meeting on February 15.