Nuffield 2012 Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC)

In the Netherlands

Contributed by Elise Keurentjes

From February 25 till February 29 the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars conference was held in the Netherlands. The Dutch Nuffield Farming Scholarship had the honor to organize this event, which was held in Rotterdam area, with the Van der Valk Hotel Blijdorp as a starting point.

As a fairly new country to Nuffield, the Netherlands encourages the opportunity to become a part of the official body of Nuffield International and this was a great opportunity to both introduce the Nuffield organization and scholars to the Netherlands and Dutch farming system as well as the Nuffield organization to our local organizations.

The kick-off of the CSC 2012 was on Saturday February 25 in Rotterdam. In the afternoon we did a landscape excursion. Some beautiful scenes of the Dutch landscape passed, we ate herring in Volendam, a typical fisherman's village, saw the new land, a dairy farm with bio digester and learned a lot about the water management. In the Netherlands, most land is below sea level, which makes the water surrounding a natural danger which the country needs to deal with. At night the group received an official welcome by Dutch chair Bram Prins and manager Elise Keurentjes during the welcome dinner.

Sunday gave the opportunity to visit the Anglican Church Service in Rotterdam. In the afternoon the introduction round took place. Each of the 60 scholars got a 2 minute slot to present themselves and their study topic in random order. In the evening an intervision exercise was done in groups, the scholars had 10 minutes each to present their topic, and what problems he or she faces within the course of the scholarship. The other scholars were to ask informative questions and further on give suggestions to help the scholar to overcome problems and find the best way to proceed with the scholarship.

An early wake-up on Monday (with alarms going off in each room) made the scholars get up on time for a visit to the Flower Auction in Naaldwijk. The tour in the auction building was very impressive, after the tour Mr. Gijs Kok from Flora Holland introduced the company to the scholars. FloraHolland is a cooperative, this entire day – chaired by 2011 Irish Scholar David Murphy – was organized around the cooperative systems which are highly popular in the Netherlands. After the first session there were introductions from Jan Willem Straatsma from Friesland Campina (dairy coop), Paul Jansen (VION Foods) and Gert van Dijk (professor in cooperatives from Neyenrode University). David Murphy chaired an interesting discussion around cooperatives and had the scholars to do a SWOT analysis on coops.

In the evening a misty Spido boat tour was made in the Rotterdam harbor. For three hours we cruised and had dinner that was very special! Apart from the fascinating view of the enormous harbor activities going on, we had to learn some tricks and solve practical matters that two of the Dutch scholars came up with.

On Tuesday we made a trip to the pig farm of the family Hogenkamp in Dalfsen. There we finally learned to understand in a good way how the Agricultural Policy in Europe is established and executed. With chair Gerrit MeesterHerman Snijders (Ministry of Agriculture) and Madelon Meijer (Oxfam Novib) explained about the CAP and its pre's and con's. After a very good discussion pig farmers Johnny Hogenkamp and Henk de Lange explained and virtually showed their farms. Many challenges are faced by the Dutch pig farmers which the policies getting more restricted for pig farming. Also Henk explained more about his local brand, he produces and sells his pig meat and other local products under the 'Vechtdal' brand and is very successful in doing so.

The absolute best was saved for last, according to most scholars. On Wednesday we visited Koppert Cress with entrepreneur/owner Rob Baan. Rob is a very innovative 'farmer' and grows an enormous variety of cresses. He invites top chefs from all over the world which he teaches about the cresses and how to cook with them. The lunch we had that day was outstanding!

This morning started with a fabulous marketing presentation from Henk van Dongen, owner of Fresh Retail. He introduced us to many trends in food and retail that are relevant to all of us, farmers included and new ways of thinking. After a walk through the glass houses with cresses we got to taste all kinds of (natural) cresses, we had oyster taste, honey, 'electricity', sea wheat and more!

The 2012 scholars we were pleased with this great start of their scholar year, the opportunity to focus on their study, network, make friends for life and see some of the best what the Netherlands has to offer in agribusiness field was a beautiful experience.

Speakers at the Netherlands section of the 2012 CSC were:

In the UK

Contributed by Rob Burtonshaw

I struggle to remember a week that flew by so quickly, yet which lasted so long. We were up early; the days were long and crammed full, and the nights, on occasion, very late. Yet somehow we were going home when it seemed that we had only been away for a day or two. It was eight days and nights, spilt between the Netherlands and London, of talking, listening and new thoughts.

Around seventy scholars and a good hand full of wise old heads provided an opportunity to talk to someone new throughout the proceedings. Perhaps, with hindsight, it was predictable how easily everybody related to each other. A common trait was a strong interest in new ideas in agriculture and how others did things differently. New friends were made very quickly even if the Australians' could not contain their laughter and knowing smiles when we talked about the drought back home.

The Dutch had done great job and now it was London's turn.

New Zealand House was the venue for the first day and the panoramic views of central London from the top floor were almost worth the stress of the Nuffield interview panel on its own! The morning's speakers and discussion focused on GM crops, localism and the organic movement. The debate contained, as you might expect, opposing views and plenty of questions which were not going to be answered in a single morning.

In the afternoon the presentations focused on global trade and the difficulties in removing barriers to trade in a world where every country's needs and demands are so varied. As with any conversation regarding the world economy, deficit reduction and sovereign debt were soon being discussed, another subject which we were not going to answer in just a few hours! Afterwards The High Commissioner hosted a reception attended by Nuffield Patron HRH the Duke of Gloucester.

I fail to see how anyone will forget the day we spent at the Institute of Directors, every speaker was excellent, raising global issues, providing food for thought, however the more personal reflections which followed stole everyone's attention. The grand building which hosted us must have witnessed many public speeches, although I doubt if it has ever seen such a uniformed and immediate standing ovation than the one which followed Angus Davison's words to us.

Saturday saw us break free of the city, take the train and head into what was a more familiar backdrop for most scholars: the countryside. The day involved two farm visits, one to a farm where every opportunity to diversify had been taken and countless profitable businesses were being run on one farm. The other visit was to Ian Pigott's farm to hear about Open Farm Sunday. Ian talked about how his Nuffield scholarship helped form his ideas, and how we can promote agriculture to the population at large. I'm not sure if our transport back to the train station was part of this plan, but Ian's people carrying, tractor pulled, trailer certainly caught the attention of a few locals!

The conference ran smoothly and the organisers should be proud of their efforts. This year's CSC was a fantastic introduction to Nuffield. It has left me feeling humble to have been selected for such an opportunity and at the same time inspired to get stuck in and start my studies.

Speakers at the UK section of the 2012 CSC were:

Photos of the event are available on the Nuffield Australia web site

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