Simon Cook’s Nuffield scholarship experiences: Part 1 blog

Simon Cook, Individual Associate member of Agcarm and owner of Ranfurly Orchard Services – a Te Puke based orchard contracting service for the fruit growing industry in the Western Bay of Plenty – writes of his whirlwind tour around the globe as part of his Nuffield scholarship.

Part one

What is the scholarship?

The scholarship, considered as one of the most prestigious in agriculture, traditionally focuses on dairy and broad acre cropping.  Named after Lord Nuffield, originally known William Morris, the British engineer and industrialist who founded the Morris Motor Company and is best-known for giving the world the Morris Minor. With his business acumen, Lord Nuffield became a leading philanthropist in health and education. Following the Second World War, he initiated a scholarship scheme to allow British and Empire farmers to travel and promote best practice in agriculture. That tradition started in 1947 and has grown to include around 70 scholars each year from around the world. New Zealand contributes five scholars and in 2018 I am lucky to be part of that group.

The scholarship has three core components. The first is a conference for all 70 scholars. This year, the Contemporary Scholars Conference was held in the Netherlands and during the week, we covered Dutch agriculture and the devastating effects that the Second World War had on Dutch and European agriculture. The severe famine was a result of the decimation of European agriculture during the war. The famine helped drive the formation of the EU and the creation of agricultural subsidies as a means to ensure Europe would never again suffer such a devastating food shortage.

There is a stark difference in the way primary producers are respected in countries that have known true food shortages, compared to the way farmers are treated in a country like New Zealand – where the public has no understanding of famine and what life is like if the agricultural systems do fail.

The second component is the Global Focus Program (GFP), a six-week tour travelling in a group of 8-9 scholars, visiting up to six countries on different continents – exploring their agricultural, economic and cultural make-up.

The third component is a further 10 weeks travelling on your own exploring a particular subject of interest. This investigation culminates in the presentation of your findings at a biannual Nuffield Conference.

Given the history of PSA in the Kiwifruit industry and my own involvement with the industries biosecurity body Kiwifruit Vine Health, it was only natural that my individual travel would focus around biosecurity, and the recent incursion of Mycoplasma Bovis has only served to reinforce this focus.

I have left behind a family I won’t see for about three months and an orchard that is only half-way through its harvest. The opportunity to travel and learn has a significant cost, felt most sharply by those left behind to look after the family or run my business. It is only with their full support that I have been able to take up this amazing opportunity and I will have my work cut out in repaying the sacrifices they are making. I am sure my wife will never let me hear the end of this.

I will endeavour to send regular updates to let people know where I have got to and what I have seen in the hope that it inspires others to take up this opportunity and become a Nuffield Scholar in their own right.