It is estimated that by 2050 there will be nine billion people on the planet.
A looming question is how farmers are going to provide that population with healthy, safe, accessible food from fewer farms and with diminished human capital.
That was the challenge issued to participants in the fifth Nuffield Farming Contemporary Scholars conference in Washington DC and Pennsylvania last month. It was attended by scholars and farm leaders from Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Along with listening to speakers on the global agricultural economy, the group was the guest of a Taste of Canada reception at the Canadian Embassy.
The scholars also participated in an extensive tour of Pennsylvania agriculture involving everything from an Amish farm in Lancaster County, to a mushroom farm in Chester County, and a large apple packing plant in Adams County.
One highlight was a visit to Mason Dixon Farms, a 2,400 head dairy operation near Gettysburg whose visionary owner, Richard Waybright, installed a manure biodigester back in the late 1970s, long before anyone else was even contemplating that technology. According to Waybright, “Change is inevitable. Success is optional.”
Through the tours, the group contrasted what they were learning with their own farming practices and had many discussions around how their new knowledge could benefit their own country.
"The Nuffield experience is unique, said Shane Eby, of an organics farm in Millgrove. Eby, one of two current Canadian Nuffield scholars, said, “The opportunity to share knowledge and experiences with over 50 other farmers and agricultural leaders from seven other countries is invaluable. The fact that we are all involved in different sectors of the industry, from dairy, to organic vegetables to beef and sheep and even to aquaculture presents an incredible opportunity to learn. Besides the farmers, we were joined with farm policy makers, lobbyists, national park managers, and communications specialists. My own farm practices will improve as a result of what I’ve learned and I hope to share what I’ve learned with other farmers.”
At a forum organized by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, speakers talked about many of their local issues, including the rural and urban interface, the environment, and the changing definition of agriculture, none of which are unique to Pennsylvania.
Sarah Megens, of Guelph, a 2010 Canadian scholar, is using her Nuffield scholarship to explore issues surrounding farmland preservation and local food systems around the world.
“This week I learned about the innovative legislation and programming Pennsylvania has put in place as an attempt to secure their most valuable farmland for food production. Many of the issues facing farmers in Pennsylvania are very similar to those seen in Ontario – the high cost of land, urban encroachment, the increasing age of farmers, and the consumer desire for more sustainably produced locally grown food.
My hope is that through my Nuffield travels I will see more innovative policies that we can adopt in Canada so that we can, in turn, secure our own food supply, support rural economies and end the permanent loss of farmland to unsustainable urban development.”
Leadership was a common theme of the week and Russell Redding, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, who travelled with the group for several days, reminded it that “leadership can be a very lonely task.” That was evident during an in-depth tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, where discussions revolved around different decisions, tactics, and leadership styles exhibited by various Civil War leaders made.
Nuffield farming scholarships are awarded to enthusiastic future leaders, between the ages of 25 and 45, wishing to explore topics of their choice in agriculture, agricultural land management, horticulture or the food chain. They provide individuals with the opportunity to:
– develop a global perspective on food and agriculture;
– achieve personal development through study and travel;
– stand back from their day-to-day occupation and study a topic of real interest to them; and
– access the world’s best in food and farming, deliver benefits to Canadian farmers and growers, and to the industry as a whole.
A key part of the scholarship is the opportunity for winners to study a topic of great personal interest to themselves by carrying out an extensive research and global study tour. Scholars must complete their project within two years of the award and are required to travel and study for a minimum of two months. On return from their study tour, scholars are expected to produce a written report and present their findings at the annual general meeting as well as to others in their industries.
Applications for the 2011 scholarship are due April 30, 2010. The 2011 Contemporary Scholars’ conference will be held in late February in New Zealand. For more information on Nuffield Canada, visit www.nuffield.ca or on the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust (United Kingdom site) is www.nuffieldscholar.org.