The Steven and Gill Bullock Award recognises those who have applied learning from Nuffield Farming Scholarships to develop their businesses, innovate and contribute to the industry. Jane King meets the shortlisted scholars
Home Farm, Screveton, near Bingham, Nottinghamshire
Scholarship subject: Reconnecting the food supply chain
Out of adversity can often come triumph and David Rose is someone who has experienced both in equal measure.
David had to dissolve and sell up his farm shop home delivery business two years after completing his Nuffield scholarship, but has rebuilt his career and become an innovator in other ways.
Learning from his study on the importance of education, health and sustainability as a key driver of growth for agriculture has stood him in good stead. After a two-year stint working for London mayor Boris Johnson, he moved back to farming and now manages an imaginative community carefarm called Farmeco (www.farmeco.co.uk) about 12 miles from Nottingham.
Farmeco is a mixed farm enterprise with high environmental and animal welfare systems, plus a newly built eco centre for visits and training courses.
It is a conglomerate of four farms that work together on 1,214ha to make agriculture more environmentally sustainable, better suited to the needs of local food markets, wildlife-friendly, open to the local community and less dependent on inputs.
David Rose, the co-founder and co-director, has just started HLS on the farm as a mark of this commitment. An essential part of his vision is to educate the wider community and encourage involvement in food production for local consumption.
He wants to implement a Soil Association scheme called Community Supported Agriculture, which enables local people to grow their own food on allotments, enjoy guided walks and participate in the running of the farm business.
A classroom and polytunnels are also being built to enable young people from schools and colleges in the area to access a range of learning and work experience activities. More than 1,000 children a year benefit from a range of workshops financed by schools and sponsorship. Special needs visitors use Farmeco twice a week and are financed by social services personal budgets.
“Nuffield has changed my life but until recent experiences I hadn’t appreciated just how much,” says David. “Within this project I see for the first time all the key elements coming together reconnecting the supply chain through health, education and friendship.”
Lower House Farm, Ledbury, Herefordshire
Scholarship subject: Making commonsense of global agricultural policies and what shapes them
Herefordshire farmer Bruce Gilbert used to run a mixed farm enterprise and was comfortable with that. But his Nuffield scholarship convinced him to do more with the business and make a bigger contribution to the industry. His study findings directly led to him diversifying into conference facilities on the farm and becoming more actively involved in agri politics.
“Farmers need to take control of their own destiny rather than complain when others make decisions on their behalf,” he says. “They also need to work closer with the public to show them how farming works.”
Bruce put his learning into action by opening The Stables (www.thestablesconferencecentre.co.uk) in 2006, a venue that employs three people and is managed by his wife who has experience in this field. The conference centre has opened new opportunities and now Bruce is exploring expansion into accommodation.
The scholarship has increased his self belief and can-do attitude, particularly in combining commercial farming with environmental care on 261ha. He has two English Heritage sites on his land and has joined the HLS scheme with the opening of miles of footpaths and bridleways for the public to use.
The enterprise became a LEAF demonstration farm seven years ago, so Bruce and his team are well versed in talking to the public, whether answering questions about his beef herd or entertaining clients in the conference centre.
In the past 10 years, he has also been heavily involved in helping shape decisions within industry representative groups. He is currently Herefordshire county chair of the NFU and has previously served on the council and executive of the CLA.
“None of this would have been possible without the confidence and the global contacts that my study gave me,” he said. “It has led to huge personal development within my business.”
Hilton of Fern Farm, By Brechin, Angus
Scholarship subject: The evolution of precision agriculture
Jim Wilson has been passionate about technology and the advantages of precision agriculture for at least 15 years, and he has used this to drive growth in his business SoilEssentials (www.soilessentials.com).
The grower produces cereals, oilseed rape and potatoes on his farm in Angus but is also technical director of SoilEssentials, which offers soil sampling and mapping, training, consultancy and data management to agricultural enterprises right across the UK and Europe.
Jim’s Nuffield scholarship gave him the confidence to be more ambitious with expansion of the soils business, which included developing a five-year plan to take on new staff and introduce additional products.
“It was recognised at the start that we needed to offer the complete solution – everything from agronomy, software, hardware, training and support – as many people had commented on the problems of making equipment from different suppliers work together,” he says.
“Nuffield gave me a new appreciation of the advantages of co-operation – either with other farmers or within a company – whereas before I wanted to do everything myself.”
Jim found a fellow director whose skills complemented his own and he has focused on setting out the direction of the company and forging customer relationships. SoilEssentials has since grown annually at around 30% and now employs 14 full-time staff with several part-time soil samplers.
The agronomy service operates direct to farmers as well as many independent agronomy, spraying and merchant companies in the UK and abroad. The machine control division was one of the first of its kind to exploit mobile phone technology for remote management of machinery. In the past year, the business has built its own range of cloud-based soil-sampling and farm-management systems.
|The Steven and Gill Bullock Award|
|The Steven and Gill Bullock Award for Nuffield innovation, now in its fifth year, aims to identify scholars who have best demonstrated a change in outlook and have applied their learning well in their career or business.
Steven Bullock managed the Farmers Weekly farms from 1963 to 1988 before becoming a director of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust, for many years playing a pivotal role in British agriculture. In his memory, his widow Gill set up the award to highlight the enormous benefit of Nuffield scholarships to individuals and the industry.
The 2012 judges were: Michael Jack, HSBC’s agriculture and food adviser; LEAF chairman Stephen Fell; and Farmers Weekly editor Jane King. This year’s winner, to be announced at the Nuffield Winter Conference on 23-24 November, will receive a £1,000 cash prize.
For more information on the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust visit www.nuffieldscholar.org or call 01858 555 544. To take part in the 2012 scheme, apply now with details of your personal study project. Applications close on 31 July.