Agricultural Development students from across Africa and Asia visited a 1,459ha mixed farming enterprise in Rutland as the first of several farm visits that the Marshal Papworth Fund will organise over the academic year, to complement their scholarship-funded Masters studies here in the UK.
The nine students were hosted by Percy, Tre and Tom Gilman, who explained how they incorporate conservation work through environmental schemes, set up a robust business structure and work with the latest technology including RTK and GPS as part of a profitable and sustainable arable and sheep farm.
One of this year’s Marshal Papworth scholarship recipients, Charles Kabena from Malawi, a Reading University MSc Communication for Development student, said: “We are very grateful to the Gilman family for giving us their time and such an all-encompassing learning experience, which helps us understand how we can help our communities take their production to a commercial level alongside a sustainable approach to wildlife conservation. The opportunity to see first-hand many of the theories that we are covering in class is also invaluable to our studies and will allow us to make a stronger impact when we return to our home countries.”
The Marshal Papworth Fund has now welcomed 215 agricultural development students, working across developing countries to overcome issues including food insecurity, poverty and climate change in a sustainable way. Whilst in the UK, the students attend a number of visits to farms and other agricultural enterprises, that allow them to see, first-hand, the techniques and management practices UK farmers use to build sustainable and profitable businesses. Allied with their Masters studies, these practical learnings enable the students to go back to their home countries with both policy design and practical implementation ideas that can benefit the farmers in their own communities.
The nine students are currently studying for their Masters degrees at Cranfield University, Harper Adams University, Reading University and Writtle University College, as part of agricultural development charity the Marshal Papworth Fund’s intake of scholarship students. This year, the Marshal Papworth Fund is pleased to welcome its first students from Vietnam and Botswana to further extend the reach of its work.
Percy, who is a Royal Agricultural University (RAU) graduate, explained to the students: “For any hope of a successful farming business, my advice to all of you would be to get the business structure right before you do anything else, it is absolutely essential if you want it to be not only profitable but to grow.” Percy and his son Tom run two very separate businesses but some of the costs, including some staff and machinery, are shared to keep overheads down. “Don’t jump in; there is a huge value to spending time on your business planning and seeing where you can share some of the cost pressures.”
Tom, who is also an RAU graduate, said: “We have a heavy involvement in stewardship schemes here, initially in the old Countryside Stewardship Scheme and now in the Mid-Tier Scheme, and we have carried out a large amount of conservation work as a result. This has helped not only improve the farm’s infrastructure with improved hedging but also deliver huge environmental benefits.” Tom continued: “We also grow 2m wildlife strips either side of these hedges, which helps keep the sheep away as well as providing a crucial wildlife corridor.”
Percy said: “We target selling lambs from the end of May and selectively breed our own rams for fast growth and conformation using Signet performance recording to measure and monitor those key traits, whilst replacement ewes are sourced direct from North Yorkshire farms to fit our specific quality and health requirements, maintaining our ewe numbers at around 4,000. By breeding our own rams we are not only keeping costs down but also controlling the flock’s health status and those traits that we want to prioritise – I’m sure that this is something that the students could help replicate in livestock farming in their home countries.”
Percy continued: “I really hope that the Marshal Papworth students have been able to take some lasting learnings away from this visit – whether that’s how to be more selective when choosing breeding genetics in commercial livestock production, or how to incorporate conservation and environmental work to not only benefit the environment around your farm, but also harness some of those natural resources to your business’ benefit.”