Five success stories are vying for the 2018 Steven and Gill Bullock Award, presented to the Nuffield scholar judged to have done the most with their Nuffield experience 10 years after completing their scholar’s report.
Established in memory of Steven Bullock, Farmers Weekly‘s farm manager from 1963 to 1988, the award comes with a £1,000 cash prize.
The technology missionary: David Gardner
David Gardner owes the job he held until he retired earlier this year directly to his Nuffield research project.
It was the presentations he gave following his Nuffield study, on how new technology could transform UK agriculture, that led to him being asked to join the Royal Agricultural Society of England as a trustee.
In 2012 David became chief executive of RASE, with a brief to put in place a knowledge exchange programme for farmers.
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David formed Innovation For Agriculture (IfA), a consortium of 16 agricultural societies that uses its network to deliver knowledge exchange to local farming communities.
“We started off with no money,” David recalls. But a concerted fundraising campaign managed to raise enough from charitable trusts and foundations to get started. IfA clearly has a compelling story to tell – to date these efforts have raised almost £2m.
IfA organises workshops, conferences and farm walks. It’s current programmes include “Soil Health and Organic Mmatter”, “Precision Livestock Farming” and “Antimicrobial Resistance”, with a new work programme under development on the use of digital technologies.
“The feedback from our events has been very good,” says David. “More than 80% say they will change their behaviour when they get back to their farm.”
David has secured an additional £1.5m of funding from the EU Horizon 2020 programme, which kicked off in 2014.
IfA now employs eight people and had a turnover last year of £500,000. “That will grow significantly in 2018,” David says.
Having retired from RASE in May, leaving it in a much healthier state than when he joined, David doesn’t plan to just do the gardening. He’s still on the board of Waldersey Farms, a 4,856ha fenland farming business, and has just joined the board of the Rural Payments Agency.
He also plans to do more voluntary work – including acting as a mentor for Nuffield scholars.
The community builder: Michael Dart
When Michael Dart embarked on his Nuffield scholarship he was already running a successful on-farm retail park, selling produce from his own farm alongside other retailers.
What his Nuffield travels taught him was the value of experience and community and how it can turn food retail into something much bigger.
“I was fortunate enough to travel to Vermont in the USA and Piedmont in Italy to experience the way in which food brought communities together,” he says.
Darts Farm has been transformed from a retail outlet to a place where local people, food producers and artisans can come together to eat and learn.
An Artisan School of Food and Drink runs classes in, among other things, gin, butchery and marmalade. Events hosted on the site include a pumpkin festival, a “Celebration of Cider”, an Autumn photography course and cake baking demonstrations.
Darts Farm has also reached out into the local community. Its food waste is recycled to make nutritious food for disadvantaged local people.
The farm grows sunflowers for a local hospice charity, encouraging local families to pick their own and make a charitable donation. It also runs an annual family camp to encourage families to cook and camp together on the farm.
On a patch of land a couple of miles away, Michael Dart is bringing to life a more ambitious vision: a complete community with housing, a school, allotments, orchards and a community hub with a cafe, all linked by foot and cycle paths and a stream.
Michael has planned the whole project, in a series of phases – Phase 1, with 140 houses and a Church of England primary school, is already complete.
Michael says he was partly inspired by Poundbury, Prince Charles’ experimental community on the outskirts of Dorchester in Dorset. “That was very influential in my thinking.” he says.
The fruit evangelist: Sarah Calcutt
Sarah Calcutt grew up on a fruit farm in Kent and wrote her Nuffield report on “Effective Marketing Strategies for Fruit”.
After travelling across the US and New Zealand talking to growers, processors and trade bodies, she came back convinced that growers needed to work together to communicate more effectively with the public, using consistent messages.
At the time she had just taken over as volunteer chair of the National Fruit Show. “The charity was functionally bankrupt and increasingly disengaged from industry,” she recalls.
Over the past 10 years Sarah has helped transform its fortunes. The exhibition hall is now full, the show attracts more than 3,000 attendees and brings in £50,000 of annual sponsorship, and it has an education officer who reaches 7,500 children each year.
In October 2016 Sarah was appointed general manager of Avalon Growers Producer Organisation, a group of 21 top fruit growers spread across seven counties and covering more than 1,000ha.
Part of her role there is to help growers invest wisely in new technology, to reduce costs and environmental impact.
In May 2018 she took on the role of operations director at English Apples and Pears, a trade organisation set up to promote the British apple and pear industry, working alongside executive chair Ali Capper.
“My role is very much about communication; to growers, customers and consumers,” Sarah says.
Sarah has also set up her own specialist fresh produce marketing and communications business – Partners in Produce. One contract that meant a lot to her involved working with the London Produce Show and Fresh Careers Fair team on their student mentoring programmes.
The drying king: Alistair House
Alistair House got into the drying business through maize.
Farming in partnership with his brother, he had converted their entire operation to maize production, on the assumption that climate change would make maize increasingly attractive to grow in the UK – that was the topic of his Nuffield scholarship.
“Maize needs drying, so we became known for drying wet things,” Alistair explains. That led to him being approached by the producers of Ribena to buy into a contract to take the waste from their factory, accounting for 95% of the fruit pressing of the UK blackcurrant harvest.
Alistair dries the waste, selling the skins to make food colouring and the seeds to produce omega 3-rich oil, to customers all over the world.
But the blackcurrant waste occupies the driers for only six weeks a year. So his next move is to dry apple pomace, separating out the seeds and grinding the rest to produce a flour.
“We’ve been working on an exciting collaboration with Nestle,” Alistair says.
The idea is to use finely ground apple flour in sweets instead of sugar. This high-fibre, low-sugar product could help food producers hit the government’s target to reduce by 20% the amount of sugar in nine categories of food by 2020.
Alistair is now running three drying plants, with a staff of seven.
Other products he has his eye on to put through his dryers include sugar beet pulp and brewers’ spent grains. He is collaborating with several UK universities on food research projects and is involved in a Horizon 2020 project with four other European countries. He also supports a masters course run by the AgriFood Training Partnership, involving six UK universities.
The food business incubator: Rob Ward
The concept behind Grocery Accelerator is straightforward: take the startup accelerator model pioneered successfully in the US technology sector and apply it to food and drink.
Rob Ward set up the business in 2014, having completing a Nuffield scholarship looking at new relationships between food producers and retailers.
Immediately upon returning from his Nuffield travels Rob sold his successful farm shop and food distribution business and spent a few years experimenting with ways to capitalise on his Nuffield learning before hitting on the Grocery Accelerator model.
The model involves discovering new and innovative food and drink businesses and providing them with coaching and mentoring, helping them to find new investment and supporting their product development process.
“In essence, we enable early stage, fledgling brands to thrive in a ‘Goliath’ world of big food and drink companies,” Rob says.
The company already works with online supermarket Ocado, acting as a channel to bring innovative new products to Ocado’s customers. Rob is working on a similar relationship with Sainsbury’s.
To date, the company has an invested portfolio of 20 early stage food and drink businesses, valued at more than £10m. In 2019 Rob aims to increase this to a total of 40 invested brands, with a combined portfolio value of more than £20m.
This year Grocery Accelerator launched a programme to help international brands break into the UK, starting in March with brands from Australia, co-funded by FIAL, the Australian Government export agency.
Next year Rob hopes to extend this idea to create a “one-stop shop” for UK food and drink companies looking to break into overseas markets.