Northern Ireland livestock farmer, Victor Chestnutt, has been the president of the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) since July, 2020, and is well-known to many livestock producers in Scotland.

On our side of the water, he's best known for his Texel sheep flocks – under the Clougher and Bushmills prefixes – and is a former chairman and president of the British Texel Sheep Society.

In an exclusive interview for The Scottish Farmer, Chris McCullough found out more about Victor’s ambitions as president and how the 60-year-old unwinds. Surely a lambing cannot be relaxing...?

IT’S been quite a tumultuous term in office for UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, who took the reins of the union in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Victor is the sixth generation to run the family farm based at Bushmills, near the Giant’s Causeway, on the north Antrim coast, from where he can take in the views of the Scottish coastline – on a clear day of course.

As a boy, Victor always knew he wanted to be a farmer and is relishing the opportunity to help the union’s 11,500 membership succeed in producing the best food in the world.

He has faced a number of challenges both as UFU president and on his own farm this past year but what keeps him going? And what are his goals and ambitions?

What's your family situation and what how do they fit into your farming?

My wife Carol and I have two grown up children. Zara has just embarked on a new career with Reprodoc, with Dr Dan, who is a legend in the field of dairy reproduction.

David runs our dairy business along with Carol, who does the lion’s share of the milking and is kept busy with farm records.

Your home farm?

I was a Greenmount student in 1978 and went on to develop the home farm into several livestock enterprises mainly sucklers and sheep. We introduced pedigree Texel sheep in the early 1980s and later in life my son, David, moved into dairying in 2009.

What do you stock and which breeds?

We have mostly Charolais and Angus cattle and a small number of British Blues. We run 60 pedigree Texel ewes and 60 Scottish Blackface crossed to the Bluefaced Leicester to produce Mule lambs for the breeding sales.

The Texel ewes lamb in February and the Blackface lamb in early April. Our dairy herd consists of 180 Holstein/Montbeliarde cross cows which calve from mid-September to April.

We also have 60 spring calving suckler cows and finish 250 store lambs each year. We run our own bull sale and have cut out the fancy feeding of pedigree bulls and concentrate on bringing them on more commercially.

This established sale is now in its seventh year, gaining many repeat customers and beating the club sales average prices. The sale is run in early February each year selling 12-15 bulls.

When were you elected UFU president and how long is your term?

I was elected president at the UFU drive-in agm in July, 2020. It is a two-year term following on from the position of deputy president which I held from 2016.

It’s been a crazy term but what have been your highs and lows as president thus far?

There is a definite high every time you feel you’ve helped a farmer, either with a personal problem or get a win in a policy area such as Covid-19 support.

The lows would be being misunderstood and the amazing work the farming industry does being devalued by the public and by people with another agenda.

Brexit has come and gone, and there are clearly some issues surrounding sending goods from NI to mainland. Should the NI Protocol be scrapped?

We have issues from east to west and west to east, and these need to be addressed by our politicians.

There needs to be a willingness on both sides and the realisation that we are coming from the same place regarding standards. Also, many of these draconian checks do not need to take place at all as there is no risk at this point to the EU’s single market.

Scottish and NI farmers operate pretty similar systems, what are the main challenges farmers face moving livestock and goods between the two countries and can we solve them?

Yes, of course we can work around it, I think every problem has a workable solution provided pragmatism and the will to find it is displayed.

Due to our animal traceability system in NI, there should be no need for many of these obstacles, as these animals and goods provide no risk to the EU Single Market.

For example, if they come to a farm business or are consumed in NI, they should be treated as internal trade.

Our pedigree sector has long punched well above its weight and the requirement for animals to do a six-month residency in GB, meaning NI producers are on a one-way ticket, should not be required because of our animal traceability system.

There should be no need for second-hand machinery to have a veterinary certificate to make sure there is no soil in it. You don’t need to be qualified as a vet to be able to tell whether a piece of equipment is clean or not.

Covid-19 has created both opportunities and challenges for NI farmers. How do you see it?

It has been challenging to keep our processors and livestock markets open and functioning during Covid-19.

Plus, some sectors are experiencing big losses because of the shutdown of the food service sector. However, one of the most positive aspects of Covid-19 has been that the public has re-engaged with where their food comes from and have valued farmers as essential workers during these strange times.

I hope that we can capitalise on this and that this goodwill will continue in the future.

You must have a hectic schedule as UFU president and as a farmer. How or when do you unwind and relax?

I am not good at relaxing. I unwind from union work by doing farm work. But I really miss attending both local and cross channel shows and sales.

What are the key issues currently facing NI farmers?

Northern Ireland is a region with small-sized family farms. Sustainability right across the board from profitability to the environment is the biggest issue facing our farms and the heavy reliance in the past on support.

Before your term ends is there anything in particular you would like to accomplish?

A new agriculture policy that rewards outcomes, a seismic move on the eradication policy for TB, and a brighter future for our younger farmers.

What is the future plan for you and the farm?

I am 60 now and in the future I aim to sell 20-25 bulls a year and a few more dairy cows. I also aim to make the farm carbon neutral by continuing to do environmental works and better soil management to produce more from less inputs. Soil health is our wealth.