Farmer education success story Nuffield Australia is starting to look beyond the farm gate to open up its international scholarship program to people in farm-related business areas.
Nuffield currently offers up to 30 scholarships so farmers can travel overseas for several months, gaining first hand insights into aspects of production, research and markets which can be adapted to improve their industry’s productivity back in Australia.
The self-education program is backed by about 40 donors ranging from philanthropic individuals to banks, agricultural companies, peak industry bodies and rural research and development corporations.
Newly appointed chief executive officer, Jodie Dean, said farmers and others in agribusiness ventures servicing the farm market were increasingly looking at how to lift Australia’s post-farm gate efficiency and income opportunities.
Peak grain merchant body Grain Trade Australia (GTA) recently partnered with Nuffield to fund an annual post farm gate scholarship for successful applicants exploring aspects of the grain supply chain.
Last year’s winner was GrainCorp’s Adelaide-based commodity manager, Lachlan Allen, who will be among the returning scholars addressing this year’s Nuffield Australia national conference in September.
“More and more of our scholars are looking beyond the farm gate as an opportunity to improve overall productivity,” Ms Dean said.
“They’re also using their scholarship to build valuable contacts in the industry outside traditional farming and research areas.
“I think there is a growing opportunity to increase the Nuffield footprint to cater for the broader needs of the agriculture sector.
“Australia has a huge agricultural service sector which is growing more important by the year as farming gets more complicated and relies on the skills of specialist contractors and advisors.
“It’s logical that Nuffield Australia should look at how to build this area of agriculture’s capacity.”
Nuffield’s self-funded “capacity building” agenda was initiated as an off-shoot of the Nuffield Foundation, formed in Britain in 1943 by then Lord Nuffield, William Morris - a bicycle mechanic turned self-made millionaire who had founded Morris Motors.
The first Australian farming scholarship was awarded in 1950 and the organisation has since built momentum - particularly in the past 15 years - to now boast about 380 past scholars in its ranks.
Winners are now drawn from industries as diverse as cotton, greenhouse horticulture, aquaculture, winegrape, eggs, livestock and grain production.
Apart from their two-month overseas study tour, the agricultural learning program gives current scholarship winners access to an influential alumni network of past winners and the resources offered by support businesses and research bodies, including international companies such as Nufarm and Westchester.
Ms Dean, said agribusinesses and major retailers were showing increasing enthusiasm as supporters of Nuffield scholars and particular areas of scholarship research which were likely to indirectly benefit their business sector.
Each Australian scholarship covers attendance at the national conference, an international Nuffield conference attended by winners from seven other countries and tours to important agricultural markets such as China, Indonesia Japan and the Middle East, plus the scholar’s chosen overseas study trip.
Although no longer financially supported by the UK-based Nuffield charity, Britain remains one of the key members of the international farming scholarship program alongside New Zealand, Canada, France, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.
Brazil is the newest member of the scholarship group, although yet to officially run its own Nuffield organisation.
Ms Dean has just spent two months meeting and seeking feedback from foundation supporters and scholars.
She officially took the helm at Nuffield Australia from Jim Geltch who now heads up the expanding international farming scholars program.
Ms Dean, an agriculture graduate from Western Sydney University - Hawkesbury, previously worked as operations manager with GTA.
Prior to 2014 she was agricultural development manager with the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW and spent five years with Lachlan Catchment Management Authority and Central West Farming Systems, having earlier worked on a natural resources pasture project at Barcaldine in western Queensland.