Let's learn from each other - says new NFU rep for Northumberland

First published: 13 May 2022

Duncan Nelless on his farm with cattle in the background

Duncan Nelless, Northumberland livestock farmer and the county’s new Council Delegate, is keen to see local farm businesses thrive despite challenging times

Farming with his brother, Angus – who has been on the regional livestock board for several years – and as part of a wider family partnership, Duncan Nelless says he couldn't have picked a more challenging time to take on a new role with the NFU.

“People talk about a seismic change once in a lifetime,” he quips, “but I think our generation is now on our third!”

Embracing change

The family is one that has embraced change – not only going organic in 2005, but also working to strip out cost after Duncan said they realised their original business model was not working.

“We loved our high-end continental cattle, with fantastic show calves going down to Smithfield,” he said. “So it was a hard realisation that we were actually farming at a subsistence level.

“We had a shearing run of 40,000 sheep a year, both our wives had good jobs and we had a thriving B&B that went from strength to strength.

“We had a lot of money coming in and most of it was being used to prop up the farm. Something had to give!”

Keeping costs down

The farm’s journey since then has seen dramatic changes – a move to hardier breeds that can winter outside, a strong focus on pasture management and on genetics too. No concentrates are used for the livestock, no fertiliser is used on the grassland and no chemicals are used either.

The aim is to keep costs as low as possible and, says Duncan, it is surprising how much cost you can take out if you need to.

Learn from each other

The key, he says, is learning from others around you, both to get new ideas but also insights into potential pitfalls.

“We made a lot of mistakes along the way, so especially with BPS reducing, it’s important to minimise your risk.

“I heard a chap talking about what he called a ‘£1,000 experiment’ – this is great because if it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost too much.”

Taking on his role at a time when there is much more risk involved for most farmers, he says he’s keen to encourage everyone to help each other.

"Most people will be re-evaluating things at the moment but we are lucky to have some very innovative farms across the county.

"So let's all learn from each other and try to seize the new opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves."

Duncan Nelless
Council Delegate

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