Cam Henderson 2019 Nuffield Scholar: CSC Report

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We heard repeatedly about the growing world population and the related demand for food driving the need for bigger, better yields of commodity products (sound familiar?!).

America has always been known of the land where bigger is better. We saw that on show in Ames, Iowa for the 2019 Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference. The week served as a celebration of US agriculture and the role corn and soybean production has in feeding the world. We heard repeatedly about the growing world population and the related demand for food driving the need for bigger, better yields of commodity products (sound familiar?!). This is a message from policy makers, researchers and farmers alike. Throw in a question about the current trade disagreements and their effect on ag exports and the response is surprisingly positive. Trade needs to be fair so, despite the current blip, it will be better in the long run – rural support for the current administration is strong.

Research and Technology

Iowa State University hosted the conference. It has one of the best agri-colleges in the country with some impressive projects such as individual plant level crop management, animal vaccination by drone and genetic products. They collaborate with industry to bring products to market quickly and have a well organised extension service that ensures research reaches farmers at pace.

Iowa is also the home of John Deere who showed us a vision of the farming future with automated cropping, sensing and decision making.

Innovative Farmers

Joe Sweeny of Eagle’s Catch, a 27 year old entrepreneur, has built a $16 million glass house to farm Tilapia, a tropical fish often served whole in Hispanic cuisine. A brave move considering his glass houses are often under two feet of snow in a tornado prone area. But with a well constructed business plan and local backing, it demonstrates the willingness to ‘just do it’ here.

Ben Riensche of Blue Diamond Farming saw the inefficiency in his fleet of cropping machinery sitting in the shed for most of the year so bought a farm in a state further south growing different crops and ships his gear backwards and forwards.

Environmental Standards

The few farms we visited were very proud of their environmental work. There is a growing recognition of farming’s impact on the environment however the policy and mitigations still lag that in New Zealand. Climate change is often seen as an opportunity to grow higher yields but a threat long term.

Learning from Other Scholars

The other scholars added the most value during the week, sharing their stories, insights and many laughs. We are all struggling with similar issues of labour, public perception, succession and the environment – an insight that is both a relief and a worry. Our new global network of friends will help as we continue on the Nuffield journey. Next stop – Washington DC.

Finally – a big thankyou to all the organisers and sponsors in NZ for your support and Kia Kaha Christchurch.

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