Neills are farming for a better climate

Paul Wheelhouse visiting Upper Nisbet
Paul Wheelhouse visiting Upper Nisbet
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Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, visited a Borders arable farm earlier this month to hear how farmers are finding ways to reduce agriculture’s impact on climate change and improve their efficiency.

Upper Nisbet, near Jedburgh, is a Climate Change Focus Farm involved in the Scottish Government’s “Farming for a Better Climate” initiative, run by SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College.

Now in the second year of the project, volunteers Robert and Jac Neill have been hosting groups of like minded neighbours to explore how changes in the way they do things can lower energy use on the farm, reduce costs and shrink the farm’s carbon footprint. Across Scotland there are four different farms taking part in the initiative. While Upper Nisbet is a mixed beef and arable unit it is the activity around their crops that have been focussed on.

In a tour of the farm Paul Wheelhouse heard how the Neill’s have already measured their farms carbon footprint and carried out detailed audits of their energy use and the scope for wind power. One aspect the Minister showed particular interest in was the adoption of so called “precision farming” techniques. With careful analysis of soil fertility and the use of satellite mapping and tractor mounted GPS they can target fertiliser use better, reducing waste, cutting costs and avoiding pollution.

The Minister was impressed with what he saw: “Improving farm efficiency and in turn the bottom line is at the heart of the Farming For a Better Climate initiative. And in light of this year’s poor summer Upper Nisbet farm’s participation in this initiative as a Focus Farm is particularly welcome.

“The farm demonstrates impressively that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can reduce farm costs. Efficient fertiliser management not only helps the climate, but also improves water quality. And returning manures and straw from the cattle to the land helps soils fertility and locks carbon in. These are really good examples of win-win measures for farmers.”

Other aspects of the Minister’s visit include discussions on feed rations for farm livestock, assessing soil quality and compaction issues after the wet season and a look at the wind speed measurements being taken made to assess the prospects of an on farm turbine.

Robert and Jac moved from Berwickshire to take over the farm tenancy in 2000 and have worked hard to build up the farm business. They are beginning their second year of the three year climate change focus farm project.

The couple actively participate in other initiatives within the farming sector. Robert’s activities include: NFUS assessor, livestock monitor for NFUS Kelso branch, current vice-chairman of Borders Valuers Association, past chair of Borders Crop and Grassland Society and director of RHET Borders. Both Robert and Jac are Farmers Weekly Focus Farmers, with a regular contribution to the UK wide magazine. In addition Jac is the President of the Berwickshire Agricultural Society Industrial Section.