Former UFU president says OBE is recognition for all farmers in Northern Ireland

The former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said his OBE honour is a recognition for all those who work in the agricultural sector in Northern Ireland.

Victor Chestnutt, 62, from Bushmills, Co Antrim, has been recognised in the New Year Honours for services to agriculture.

He said: “To be honest I’m a bit shocked. I didn’t know a thing about it, it has been a complete surprise and an honour.

“I’m an ordinary farmer. I was deputy of the UFU for four years and then had two terms as president.

“During that time, I was one who would have said what I thought needed changed.

“I spoke my mind, I give praise and criticism when I thought it was necessary.

“I suppose I thought that because I was known to be so outspoken I would never be put forward for something like this.”

Livestock farming has been in Mr Chestnutt’s family for generations, and his two grown-up children are also following in his footsteps.

Explaining how he got involved with the UFU, which represents farmers and growers in Northern Ireland, Mr Chestnutt said: “I think it was a desire to help others. I was always brought up to put God first, others second and yourself last.

“I tried to do that throughout my life.

“It started when I was at a local UFU group meeting and they were looking for a vice chairman. I was sitting quite content at the back of a room when I was proposed and seconded. I was told I had no say in it. I was bounced into leading my own local group and that gave me a taste for agri-politics.

“After that I stood for election for deputy president and then president of the UFU and found it very rewarding.

“I take this royal honour on behalf of all farmers in Northern Ireland.

“Farmers kept going throughout Covid, they produced food. We don’t take Christmas Day off, we don’t take any day off, we have to keep going.

“There has been a lot of change within my time. Climate change affects everything in the sense of farmers trying to reduce carbon.

“The last two years I’ve had a fair fight politically to get what I thought was a sensible carbon bill passed in Northern Ireland.

“Although there are only about 24,000 farm businesses in Northern Ireland we feed 10m people. That has to be produced, the world is not awash with food.

“But we have to do it in a sustainable way and reduce emissions as we do.”

Climate change bill
Victor Chestnutt former resident of Ulster Farmers Union outside Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Chestnutt’s term as UFU president finished in April, but he still keeps busy on his farm and has also set up an organisation Life Beyond, to help with mentoring in cases of deaths within the farming business.

He said: “I look forward to receiving this honour. I hold the royal family in the highest esteem for their interest in farming.

“I’d like to take the whole family over, but the cows will still have to be milked on the farm so someone will have to stay at home.”