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2017 Nuffield Triennial Conference Report

By David Drage, 2007 Scholar and Nuffield Victoria Chair

In June, I attended the 2017 Triennial Conference in the United Kingdom. For those new to Nuffield, every three years a week-long conference is held somewhere in the world as an opportunity for Scholars and interested people to catch up and network. This year the conference was held in the United Kingdom (UK) and I attended with the support of Waitrose, one of the major UK supermarket chains. Delegates from all Nuffield countries were in attendance, as well as the three Global Focus Program groups who were travelling at that time. Each day between 120 and 160 delegates visited various farms and businesses and about 500 were registered for the main conference day.

The conference was extremely well organised and run. Despite requiring four coaches to move everyone around, we were broken into much smaller groups at each place we visited. Each day involved a number of visits around a common theme and not all were directly farm related. Renewable energy is a large driver of European agriculture, wind turbines, solar farms and biomass crops were scattered across the landscape. We saw a number of methane digesters, where silage is used as a feedstock to produce methane using the same biological process as in a rumen. Some were using the methane produced to fuel generators and others were feeding methane directly into the national gas grid. All were built on long term feed in tariff deals to promote renewable energy. Much discussion occurred over a drink on the merits and morality of farming for energy over food, but we cannot forget that those same policies underwrite Australia’s canola exports to Europe.

We saw a very diverse range of farming operations. On the second day, we visited some old established family estates where the owners have a social responsibility to the hundreds of people who live in the local village. This extends to providing internet by optic fibre to all homes and upgrading a 150-year-old water distribution system. At the other end of the tour we visited tenanted sheep farmers in the Yorkshire Dales who run small flocks and get as much income from environmental conservation work as they do from their flock of sheep. Both ends of the size scale are equally pro-active in ensuring British agriculture remains a strong profitable industry to be involved in.

The main Conference Day was held at the East Midlands Conference Centre, within the grounds of the University of Nottingham. The theme of the day was Farming fit for food, and various speakers including Jane Bennett spoke on issues of health, welfare and research relating to food production. Links to Youtube clips and Powerpoint notes of the presenters are available on the Nuffield International website and are worth a look for those who weren’t there.

Obviously, Brexit was a major issue of discussion over the time of the conference. Generally, agriculture is concerned about the impact of Brexit, especially as mainland Europe is the major destination for most agricultural exports. I was quizzed by a number of Agriculture & Development Board (AHDB) staff members who are looking at what lessons they can learn from the deregulation of the Australian grains industry and I had an interesting conversation with our coach driver about the uncertainty Brexit puts on him, as he spends most of his work time driving British tourists around the continent.

We did get to see some great historical sites as part of evening activities. The British Motor Museum was very interesting. They have a fantastic collection of British motoring, both bad and good, and most importantly have preserved Lord Nuffield’s office from his original factory. The ruins of Fountains Abbey were very impressive. Built on the wealth that wool gave the church, it has been in ruins since Henry VIII outlawed Catholicism. Interestingly, the Abbey was nearly bankrupted in the late 13th century by forward contracts the monks had written for the supply of wool. Nothing ever changes in agriculture! The conference ended with a Gala Dinner at the National Railway Museum, which was a great way to end a fantastic week of Nuffield.

The 2017 committee have given us a very memorable conference, and we look forward to seeing what New Zealand will put on for us in 2020.

As a footnote, a competition was run for delegates to produce and upload a short film about the experience of the Triennial Conference. This competition was won by our own Jamie Heinrich (2017), so have a look for it and other info and photos of the Triennial Conference on the Nuffield International website.

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