Nuffield Scholars shape the future of British agriculture

A total of 16 Nuffield Scholars, a mixture of progressive farmers and industry professionals, presented at this year’s annual conference held in Bristol. Following 18-months of travel and study, they individually reported on their studies, and presented their revolutionary findings to enhance their respective sectors.

“All of the Scholars brought back practical solutions from their global travels and many presented the latest innovations in technology,” says Mike Vacher, Nuffield director.

“An impressive array of subjects were covered during the two-day event with everything from social farming and food poverty, to farming in the media and blackgrass control, all discussed and debated,” adds Mike.

Food poverty

Just one of the highlights of the event was Rob Mercer’s presentation on reducing food poverty in the UK. He noted some worrying statistics, explaining that 8 million people in the UK alone are suffering from food insecurity.

Rob went on to explain that through his Scholarship, he has set up a charity, providing free, fresh food to local primary school families in deprived areas. And while this is currently only benefitting a few communities, he hopes to gain support to roll out the initiative more widely.

Black-grass management 

Another insightful presentation came from Ben Taylor-Davies, whose Scholarship saw him set out in search of a sustainable system to tackle blackgrass.

He mentioned that in the last 20 years the cost of controlling the aggressive weed has risen by over 800%, and showcased how his own ‘System BEN’, comprising of block rotation and cultivation, can enhance natural selection and eventually neutralise blackgrass.

Farming in the mainstream media

Rural journalist and producer, Anna Jones, presented her ideas to improve disconnect between agriculture and the general public, addressing the issue of lack of trust between many farmers and the mainstream media.

She said that the public perception and narrative around agriculture is dominated by politics, and drowning out the individual farm-level messages.

So, to help resolve this issue, one of her key recommendations was for more farmers to openly speak out, championing their own systems with passion and without politics, on topical industry issues.

Mike explains that the overarching theme among all the presentations was the adoption of change and focus on long-term thinking.

“Change will only come about if these ideas are communicated to the wider industry, and we hope that these passionate and ambitious individuals will go out and share their ideas, and become tomorrow’s leaders.

“As always, the event is a brilliant opportunity to hear about the challenges faced by our global counterparts, and find out how they’re overcoming them. It’s also the perfect occasion to meet individuals that really do have the potential to shape the industry,” says Mike.

“I’d like to thank all our sponsors for their ongoing support, without them we’d be unable to offer Scholarship and host our industry events,” he adds.

In addition to the presentations, the new cohort of 2018 Scholars were officially presented with their Scholarships by the Duke of Gloucester, patron of the Scholarship Trust, before they embark on their travels in the New Year.

To find out more about the conference, read the 2016 Scholars reports and watch the videos of each presentation please visit:

Award winners

  • The Steven & Gill Bullock Award for Innovation – Andrew Gage
  • HSBC Silver Salver for the best 2015 report – Neil McGowan, for his report titled: Selection for efficiency: breeding better beef and sheep
  • John Stewart Shield for the best 2016 presentation – Peter Wiggins-Davies, for his presentation titled: The evaluation and implementation of effective growth on a rural estate



Get Our E-Newsletter - breaking news to your in-box twice a week
Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.