Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Meeting the family and opening doors

It was a chance discussion with a Nuffield Scholar that meant I finally applied for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship. Despite my protestations, he told me, in no uncertain terms, that there is never a good time to do a Nuffield. All applicants have either young family, a new business, a burgeoning career, elderly parents, no money, no time, a mortgage, an irascible boss or a mix of these. His advice: Just get on with it!

Suitably humbled, I mulled over his words, thinking about farming and what I could investigate, and when....

The eureka moment came when reading a post on a farming forum about mob grazing. It transpired that the person making the post was also a Nuffield Scholar, Will Scale, and he had come across mob grazing in America.

My appetite whetted, I started looking it up on the internet. I was blown away. Farmers across the globe were learning how to manage cattle using high density, short duration grazing periods and were achieving the holy grail: excellent liveweight gains, healthy cattle, rapidly increasing levels of soil organic matter, extended grazing in spring and autumn, more drought resistant grasses, more diversity in the sward, resistance to poaching, better nutrient recycling, it seemed to have it all, and I wanted to know more.

A Nuffield Farming Scholarship seemed the obvious answer so an application, mock interview, a real 20-minute interview and a nervous wait soon followed. The result: I've just spent the most inspiring two weeks in London and New Zealand with my new family - 50-odd other Nuffield scholars from nine different countries, and am about to embark on a further eight weeks of study in far off places around the world.

The two weeks were a whirlwind of activity. The briefing session in London, for the 19 UK (and one French) scholars, saw us meeting MP's, Baronesses, Professors, and the heads of DEFRA, NFU & the Farmers Club. We were given access to some of the most powerful and influential people in UK agriculture and politics.

A long plane flight - well three actually - to New Zealand saw us arrive in Wellington for more of the same. Briefings from global agriculturalists, an audience with NZ's Agriculture Minister and a Maori welcome were all included in the itinerary. The next stop, Hanmer Springs continued the theme with presentations from very succesful local farmers and businessmen.

A vigorous GM debate was held one morning and a whole day was dedicated to Global Leadership. Who could fail but to realise that, being part of the Nuffield organisation, means we are expected to step up to the mark and become the leaders and advocates of farming in the future. No pressure then!

The most inspiring part was mixing with fellow farmers from around the globe. Debates started spontaneously: One that sticks in my mind took place in a bar, at 1am with Andrew, an Aussie, and two Dutch guys, as we argued the finer points of sustainable farming. At issue was the definition of 'sustainable' and we each spent a long time arguing to and fro about what it means. Fortunately there was an amicable outcome, and we celebrated with another round of drinks....

I've now arrived home and am starting planning my trip in earnest. Argentina's definitely on the cards, a trip to China is also a possibility and I'm almost certainly going back to Australia & New Zealand. Exciting times.

I should make mention of Helen, my wife. She has been unbelievably supportive of the whole project and has encouraged me at all times. The fact that she holds down a full-time, high pressure job in the City and looks after our two children, Will & Imogen whilst I'm away fills me with awe and I'm incredibly grateful to her.

There is never a good time to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship. Conversely, there has never been a better time. There's a whole world of adventure out there, waiting to be discovered. Just get on with it!


  1. Hi Tom,
    I just wanted to wish you all the best on your scholarship as I've been researching Mob Grazing recently and think you've picked a great topic.
    Mob Grazing seems like it's on the "bleeding" edge of agriculture when I read this blog:
    of some of the struggles adopting to it so I hope you're able to share what you find on your scholarship.
    About 2/3rds of the way through this presentation on Soil Fertility from ViginiaTech in the US:
    there's an interesting contemporary academic perspective on Mob Grazing...No Good Data.
    Maybe your work will help change that?
    Anyways, you look like a good writer so hope you're able to post some of your findings.
    Thanks and good luck!

  2. Hi Brad

    Thanks for your comments and congratulations on being the first person to follow my blog (in twelve months time, when I finish my travels, I may also be congratulating you as being the last person to sign up to follow my blog....!)

    I agree with you, mob grazing is an incredible topic. The more you look into it, the more you realise it's all based on a mixture of good science and common sense.

    I'll carry on posting what I see and learn, interspersed with my own experiences here in the UK. Hopefully it will continue to be of interest.

    Best wishes,