Nuffield 2016 Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC)

23rd March – 12th March 2016. At Cavan, Ireland

Presentations and photographs

Available presentations made as part of the 2016 CSC are listed below. Photographs of the event can be viewed here

The 2016 Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference visited Cavan, Ireland, where 77 fresh faced scholars met to share their experiences and knowledge of the agri-food sector. In a week centred on leadership, sustainability and advocacy, the conference provided the 2016 scholars with the chance to debate the growing opportunities for global agriculture and explore how farmers, industry and government are all gearing up to tackle key challenges of sustainability, succession and food security. 2016 UK scholar, Dr Debbie McConnell reports on some of the key discussions at the event.

‘A true genius will admit they know nothing’

With 17 different countries represented and a diversity of farming systems (including aquaculture in Australia, popcorn production in Japan and floriculture in Ethiopia), the week opened our eyes to the shear diversity and breadth of knowledge Nuffield brings. Opening the conference, Nuffield Ireland chairman Bill O’Keefe highlighted the great opportunity the week presented to the 2016 scholars, commenting ‘A true genius will admit they know nothing…Everyone you meet knows something you don’t, go out and learn from them’. Over the coming days this was certainly to be the case with each day providing the opportunity to work with a different group of people and learn from different sectors and regions.

Around the world in a Nuffield minute

A flavour of this diversity was showcased early on in the conference with a session on global perspectives. In India, the challenge of sustainable agricultural intensification is top of the agenda. Malwinder Malki highlighted that by 2050 almost 20% of the world’s population would reside in India, creating demand for an extra 5.5 million tonnes of food grain at a time when challenges of land degradation and security of water are forefront of minds.

Presentations from Daniel Gad (Ethiopia) and Angus Nicoll (Zambia) highlighted the vast potential to increase agricultural output in Africa. Although most agricultural activity takes place on smallholdings, government schemes in Ethiopia have introduced significant tax incentives to encourage the growth of a highly mechanised agricultural sector and create huge potential for outside investment. In Zambia, a growing population is driving a stronger labour force. The greater processing potential and added export value this offers, is set against challenges of upskilling and educating the workforce.

In Japan, Shigeo Maeda is working to close the gap between the farmer and the customer by simply asking the question, what do you want to eat from this field? His approaches are not only helping deliver a product to customer specification but through collaborative working has helped to educate both customers and young people about farming. A changing domestic market and policy demands are also a challenge to USA producers. Ed Kee highlighted how alongside competition for energy crops, farmers were also dealing with consumer questions over animal welfare, environmental impact, genetic modified foods and health.

Precision farming is also presenting new opportunities for agriculture across the globe. Shi Baoqing from China outlined how the rapid expansion of large dairies in China is calling for both new technologies and a workforce skilled in using big data. Similarly Luciano Loman highlighted how research and development has been and will continue to be, essential in retaining Brazil as a leading exporter of many primary products.

Presenting an overarching global view Bert IJentma from Rabobank reinforced the need for more technically efficient farming systems in every country. As the number of people dependent on one farmer doubles every twenty years and the agricultural land area has dropped to an all-time low of 0.7ha per capita, we will be tasked with producing more from less. In addition, tackling food waste globally will be a major challenge with over one-third of globally produced food wasted due to lack of know-how, improper handling, transportation or storage.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you

New technologies will go hand in hand with driving technical efficiency on farm, according to Dr Eamon Harty, Dairymaster. In a world which will have seven devices for every human on the planet by 2025, Eamon described the potential for big data and smart technology as limitless however these opportunities need to be carefully adapted to agricultural systems to obtain maximum benefit. Thinking outside the box, drawing learnings from other industries and ensuring a creative working environment are key components of delivering successful products for Dairymaster. Ask the questions ‘What is it that would make a real difference?’ and continue to challenge this.

Alltech’s Dr Aidan Connolly encourages people look forward to 2050 to help future proof their business. Changing consumption patterns (partially engineered by online retail), food provenance and traceability, and environmental footprint will all remain key concerns for the future consumer and will dictate how we farm in the next 30 years.

When life gives you lemons…

Make lemonade. Over the course of the week we heard from some of Ireland’s leading agri-food businesses including Country Crest, Keelings, Lakeland Dairies and ABP. Each of these companies have grown significantly and have made the most of developing opportunities driven by changing consumption patterns in the domestic and global marketplace. Country Crest have grown from a family farm to become Ireland’s leading supplier of ready meals whilst Lakeland Dairies, processing over one billion litres of milk, have developed export markets for 80% of their produce. Using industry-wide initiatives such as Origin Green and Food Wise (as outlined by John Moloney), a quality standard trademark born out of increasing legislative requirements for farmers, many organisations are creating niche markets and developing new initiatives to set Irish produce apart on a global and domestic stage. This was very inspiring to see.

Are our current agricultural systems sustainable?

This was the question posed by Teagasc’s Rogier Schulte, and Trinity College Dublin’s Alan Matthews. Throughout the conference many scholars also expressed the feeling of being a ‘custodian of the land for future generations’. Clearly the importance of building an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable global farming model has never been greater.

The scale at which we consider sustainability needs to change according to Dr Alan Matthews. With 70% of all decisions in agriculture made in global companies but sustainability metrics assessed at a national scale, the efficacy of any environmental protection policies is limited. Scale was also picked up in an interactive catchment session run by Teagasc which highlighted the need for farmers and policy makers to work collaborative to reach regional and sub-catchment scale solutions to environmental sustainability.

How diverse land functional requirements, such as biodiversity, carbon management and water regulation, fitted with a growing global demand for food also fuelled considerable debate on the role, impact of and even requirement for agricultural subsidies in the EU and further afield.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

What makes someone change what they do? Often the best laid policy documents or strategy plan fail to achieve their end goal because they haven’t addressed the cultural attitudes and barriers that may be present.

In agriculture, one of the key cultural challenges we face is that of succession. As highlighted by Tom Tynan, European Commission, across the worlds we have created a culture where farming is not considered a viable career choice for many, failing to sell it as the innovative and exciting industry that we all know it to be. During the week, we had the opportunity to visit Ballyhaise agricultural college to see how developing a positive, innovative and open learning environment was key to changing cultural attitudes towards farming. For Heather Wildman, Saviour Associates, succession planning is a key element of developing business reliance and we need to understand and break down the cultural and social stigma surrounding succession.

If we don’t tell our story, no one else will

The growing number of digital mediums available to us to share innovative ideas and information, and connect with our consumer, was highlighted by Sinead McSweeney (Twitter), Thomas Hubert (Irish Farmers Journal) and Richard Stafford (Apridata). To get maximum impact on these platforms, informed comments, accurate facts and figures and all needed to engage the audience’s interest.

A recurring theme throughout the week was that of advocacy. Andrew Campbell from Canada, has been engaging heavily with the public via Twitter to show what life is like on a typical Canadian dairy farm. Tweeting farm pictures every day for a year, provided a great opportunity for Andrew to share a lot of farming’s core values with the consumer. However, it also brought a wave of negative attention, often based on poor or incorrect data, and highlighted to him the power of activist organisations in conveying messages about agriculture.

The resounding message from Andrew’s presentation, which echoed through the conference, was that the responsibility lies with us as an industry to communicate the true image of farming not only to consumers, but also to policy makers and industry. Now operating in a changing world were food security and safety are key priorities for government and the public, it is no longer enough to talk amongst ourselves in agriculture and hope that others will take notice. Our side of the story doesn’t exist unless we tell it.

Are you on the green platform?

Probably one of the most asked questions at the conference. Declan Coyle, a motivational speaker from Cavan, when discussing leadership at the conference used the analogy of a green or red platform. Good leaders, at any level, position themselves on the green platform which through a positive attitude, inspires others and takes responsibility for delivering effectively. For those on the red platform where negativity prevails, leadership is a difficult task.

The conference also gave the scholars a great opportunity to reflect on their own personal development. Through character profiling with Sally Thompson, identifying the important moments that have shaped our lives with Jean Lonie, and challenging our priorities and ambitions for the future with Karen Brosnan, the week allowed us understand how we could communicate more effectively in both work and personal lives.

A taste of Cavan

Throughout the week Cavan showcased some of its brightest and best in the agri-food industry. Known as ‘The Lakeland County’ with a lake for every day of the year, the rural county is characterised by a drumlin landscape dominated by forests and rolling grassland. We had an opportunity to sample some home produce through brands such as Coole Swan and Scotts Irish Cider and talk to local agri-food businesses.

However, for many I think the resounding memory of Cavan, was the openness and hospitality extended to all visiting scholars. Everyone that we met and all involved in organising the conference were incredibly accommodating and left a lasting impression in all attending.

On behalf of all the 2016 Scholars and those attending the conference I would like to extent our upmost thanks to those in Cavan and further field for organising and hosting what was an amazing event which all of us will remember for a long time.

Rise to the challenge

The eight days we spent in Cavan really showcased that although there are some challenging times ahead for agriculture, becoming frustrated by issues such as legislation, market volatility or bad press is not an option, we have to understand and deal with these constructively.

Indeed, what struck me personally was the degree of positivity and optimism present throughout the week. At a time when very few of the global agricultural sectors are buoyant, each person in the room had an enthusiasm and drive to play a part in leading positive change in agriculture across the globe. The conference not only gave us a better appreciation of these challenges at both local and global scales but also employed us with tools and techniques to allow us try and tackle some of these challenges head on. Importantly it also brought a fantastic group of people together which I hope will continue to share, innovate and lead the industry forward.

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