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Nuffield Scholarship program linking global ag entrepreneurs

Posted on March 7, 2024 by admin

By Heather Cameron
Westwind Weekly News

During Farming Smarter’s recent Global Crop Production Conference, John Foley, Senior Seed Production Agronomist at PGG Wrightson Seeds in New Zealand, spoke about science and innovation as well as the Nuffield Scholarship. 

“The Nuffield Scholarship is a global rural leadership program and it’s sort of designed to link people internationally and develop an understanding of other countries’ challenges and then bring those out and opportunities to bring them home to your own home country,” said Foley. 

Foley said that the scholarship was founded by an individual named Lord Nuffield (William Morris), who started the Morris Car Company in the U.K.

“He was a great benefactor to a lot of charities and education and he founded the Nuffield Scholarship in 1947,” said Foley. “And so the New Zealand version started in 1950, and since then there’s been about 177 scholars in New Zealand. So it’s a well established and long running scholarship program, but the international side of it is probably the key aspect. One of the things that we were able to do as a group, once the board was opened up, was participate in what’s called the Global Focus Program.”

Foley said that in their cohort was about 70 scholars from different areas in the world and the group was split into smaller groups and had the opportunity to engage in world travelling.

“It was a fascinating trip and a really great, great privilege to visit some remarkable farms and agri-businesses and talk to a lot of very interesting people,” said Foley. 

Foley then went on to say that one of the main themes that came out with the tour is that there are less people linked with agriculture. Something they noticed during their European tour, Foley said, is that there are less people advocating for better agriculture, and that the people driving the policies didn’t really have a direct connection to agriculture. The consequences of that, Foley said, are that farming and food is disconnected and that’s a challenge for creating value for farmers. Foley said there are also struggles for governments with how farmers can reduce their emissions and remain viable businesses, so agri-businesses are becoming more dominant.

“A huge number of people employed by agri-businesses are the children and farmers,” said Foley. “And so there’s this pipeline of people with natural affinity for agriculture working in agri-business. And so as our farms are getting larger and are consolidating and people and families are stopping farming as it becomes more corporatized, a really important link is going to be broken, the people that have that affinity with the farming.”

In New Zealand, Foley said, there’s a real trend to create more value outside of the farm gate.

“So essentially, what we’ve done for a generation is really focused on productivity and efficiency, but the environmental pressures, legislation, changing attitudes about how we produce our food is meaning farmers and these cooperatives and agri-business are really trying to wrestle with this challenge,” said Foley. “How can more value come from this, the value chain back to the farm, traditional supply chains being disrupted? New Zealand is one of the founding members of the WTO and so we’re seeing more trade barriers and making it more complex for trading food internationally. And then the big challenge in the New Zealand context, as I see it, is monetizing sustainability.”

Foley also explained that at the end of May 2023, New Zealand signed a free trade agreement with the European Union and the United Kingdom. Both agreements, Foley stated, have foundational clauses around sustainability of food production. Foley said that the largest agricultural sectors in New Zealand are red meat and dairy, and fresh water is also a key discussion topic there.

On top of all that, Foley said, there is a general skill shortage. 

“Agriculture probably hasn’t done a good enough job in attracting new people into the sector,” said Foley. “There was a study done by Massey University looking at the tenure of people in agriculture, and it was looking at horticulture and seasonal workers. It’s a big cohort, but the average time that somebody spent in agriculture in the period of the study was about three years. So it was a tremendous churn of workers going through the farming sector at the moment. We’re constantly looking for staff and looking for skills. So we pulled all this thinking into two things. I think of the two global challenges, one is value. So agriculture, I think it doesn’t matter what farming or where your agri-business is, we need to create more value from using less and potentially more value from producing less.”

Foley said that’s certainly one of the messages in the European Union that would be a green deal for sustainability: producing an agricultural environmental impact in New Zealand where there has recently been a change in government. The previous government, Foley said, was implementing things like requiring all farms in New Zealand to know their emissions numbers, something that was being benchmarked for 2025 onwards. And farms were going to have to pay for emissions and every farm would also have to have an emissions reduction plan. 

“It’s also this urban, rural, disconnected food systems, the loss of local services, and the movement of our population to large urban centers is really sort of disconnecting our food systems in New Zealand,” said Foley. “It’s a challenge that our society sees farmers as a force of good and not just exploiting the land and sending a lot of food offshore.” 

Foley said that he came to the idea that applied research is absolutely critical to how people are going to achieve this or add value. 

“What do we mean when we’re talking about applied research?” said Foley. “We think about science that falls into two general camps: invention and innovation. Invention is what we associate science with. It’s the people in the lab, maybe with the white coats and test tubes. They’re creating new things and inventing new things. And then innovation is taking those ideas and applying them different ways. And that’s the applied research; that’s what agriculture worldwide has been massively successful with. And so the applied research models and farming, whether it’s Canada or New Zealand or Uruguay, have just driven these incredible on-farm productivity gains, which have enabled us to produce food for a growing global population.”

Foley then explained that he had an opportunity to talk to a professor who introduced him to two models so he could try to get his mind around what exactly the challenges are. The first model, Foley said, is called the Three Horizons Model that was invented by McKinsey consultant Bill Sharpe.

“It’s a way of looking at transformative change,” said Foley. “So if we’re going to evolve our farm systems, our individual farms or our sectors, even the agricultural economies, you have a status quo and future points. And so the idea is then you’ve got to transition to a future. This is the applied research.”

The second model, Foley said, is around the value. Pine and Gilmore, Foley said, came up with a model that is a really nice way of looking at agriculture. From New Zealand, Foley said, most of what happens is commodities and shipping, and the main value players are actually outside the market. Foley said that he found an example of this in California when he went into a supermarket selling New Zealand’s grass fed beef.

“It was being sold on the grass-fed qualities, and it was commanding a really nice premium and was about $42 New Zealand dollars per kilogram,” said Foley. “So when I got back to New Zealand, I calculated the value. So the FOB (free-on-board) price was $15, and then the value to the farmer was $8.50 per kilogram. So about 65 per cent of the final value of that beef was up in the consumer quadrant. The point is there’s a lot of value in the supply chains of our commodities. It’s just that they are sitting in places outside domestic markets where they’re reducing the challenge from applied research, and for our sectors is how can we get some more of that value back to farmers?”

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