Nuffield New Zealand and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy have announced the scholarships at a function in Wellington for West Coast dairy farmer Bede O’Connor; Woodville dairy farmer Ben Allomes; Rotorua-based DairyNZ regional leader Sharon Morrell; Whanganui farmer, entrepreneur and conservationist Dan Steele and Fonterra employee Satwant Singh from Morrinsville.The five new Scholars join more than 145 others who have been awarded Nuffield Scholarships in the past 60 years, which has been a substantial investment in New Zealand agriculture’s past, current and future leaders, says Nuffield NZ chairman Julian Raine.
"Only a handful are awarded each year so a Nuffield Scholarship is one of rural New Zealand’s most valuable and prestigious awards. To be a Scholar is a life-changing experience."
The Nuffield NZ Scholarship offers the opportunity for overseas travel, study of the latest developments in a number of leading agricultural countries and provides an introduction to leaders and decision makers not accessible to the ordinary traveller.
One of the current 2014 Scholars is Palmerston North potato grower, agricultural contractor and equity dairy farmer Paul Olsen.
"It has been a brilliant experience for me, seeing other countries and a variety of cultures, mind boggling but also eye opening. New Zealand has a huge opening for the future, in terms of things like food proteins and niche products, it’s there for the taking. It’s a massive opportunity for us to take on the challenge."
Olsen says the Nuffield name opened many doors.
"I visited some massive operations – people wouldn’t hold back. It was 100 per cent nuts and bolts business information you wouldn’t get any other way."
He says the contacts made and networks formed will last a lifetime.
"I made some very strong contacts and friendships, especially through the UK, Ireland and Scotland. Many of them are coming to stay here in the next 18 months or so as well, either travelling individually or finishing their own Nuffield Scholarship travels."
Nuffield Scholars travel internationally for at least four months in their Scholarship year (not necessarily consecutively), participate in a Contemporary Scholars conference with 60 Nuffield Scholars from around the world and attend a six-week Global Focus Programme with an organised itinerary through several countries with other scholars. They also have their own individual study programme with a research report due at the end of their travels.
The 2015 research topics are likely to cover issues such as the internal growth potential of China; recognising and utilising New Zealand’s greatest asset – its people; farming communities’ responses to changes in environmental regulations or other constraints; the potential of "Brand New Zealand" and how having communities involved in conservation will show value in looking after the environment; and farmer understanding of their financial and overall business health focusing around budgeting, risk management, stress levels for farmers, suicide levels and farming pressure.
The five 2015 scholars are:
Bede O’Connor, West Coast
West Coast dairy farmer Bede O’Connor is milking 340 cows on 170 hectares near Westport and is an elected director of the Westland Dairy Co-op. O’Connor, 43, has achieved a 25 per cent increase in production over the past three seasons after purchasing his family’s farm in 2011. He would like to develop a self-sufficient farming system to combat the influences of more frequently occurring climatic events. He is a member of the West Coast TB Free Committee, West Coast Rural Support Trust and the West Coast Focus Farm Trust. He was a regional judge for the Dairy Industry Awards Trainee of the year and is an active member of West Coast Federated Farmers.
Sharon Morrell, Rotorua
Sharon Morrell is a regional leader with DairyNZ in Rotorua. Her role is a mixture of direct farmer interaction and leading a small team running discussion groups, field days and workshops. She also works alongside strategic partners, including the BOP Dairy Stakeholders Group. After gaining a Bachelor of Agricultural Science Morrell worked as a MAF farm advisor. With husband Ross she has worked on farm and raised four children. She did some supervisory and consultancy work before moving to DairyNZ in 2010. She attended the Kellogg Rural Leadership programme in 2011.
Dan Steele, Whanganui
Dan Steele is a farmer and conservationist living and working on Blue Duck Station – a 1460 hectare sheep and beef station and conservation project at Whakahoro, surrounded by Whanganui National Park. After working with his parents on the neighbouring Retaruke Station for seven years, Steele built Blue Duck Lodge in 2005, started Blue Duck Station in 2006 and founded the Wild Journeys commercial jet boats partnership in 2010.
Steele is involved with the Ruapehu Regional Tourism Organisation (Visit Ruapehu), Ducks Unlimited, NZ Wetland Care and the Whanganui National Park Conservation and Historic Preservation Trust.
Satwant Singh works for Fonterra during the week and on the family dairy farm near Morrinsville at the weekends. Singh, 30 and her husband Sunil Krishna live in Auckland – during the week she is part of the Fonterra Commodity Risk and Trading team as an Originator. One of her achievements is the Guaranteed Milk Price programme for farmers. She became an area manager for Fonterra in Morrinsville (2008-2012) after working as a Service Specialist for Fonterra (2006-2008). Singh has a Bachelor of Management Studies with Honours (Majoring in Marketing and Human Resources) and a Graduate Diploma in Accounting from the University of Waikato.
Dairy farmer Ben Allomes and wife Nicky own a half share in an 850-cow farm at Woodville; are 50/50 sharemilkers on a 400-cow farm at Woodville and a 215-cow property at Ruawhata; and also lease two other properties. Allomes is a farmer-elected DairyNZ director and on their local school Board of Trustees. He has been heavily involved with NZ Young Farmers, Primary ITO, Dairy Industry Awards, Fonterra Network and DairyNZ. While president of Young Farmers, 2007-2009, he helped to restructure and reposition the organisation and jointly led the development of the NZYF leadership "Pipeline" programme now adopted by industry "Generate" Steering Committee.