Sophie Stanley on agri-tech, AI and art classes

Sophie has been busy. Passionate about creating meaningful changes to the way we eat, and how that connects back to our planet – each step on her career path seems well placed to help make that happen.

Sophie’s Nuffield research paper, ‘Harnessing Social Media in Agriculture’, was followed by joining agri-tech start-up Figured, moving to Nebraska to launch it in the United States.

She returned to New Zealand in 2019 to join Autogrow and later WayBeyond, providers of artificial intelligence solutions for controlled environment farms. Sophie joined the board of the Dairy Women’s Network not long after.

Now standing at the intersection of agriculture, digital technology and innovation, we asked how the Nuffield Scholarship has helped expand her thinking.

“Before I received a Nuffield Scholarship, I was focused on the pastoral farming sector. But then [on the Global Focus Programme] you’re thrown into everything from row cropping to aquaculture. You get to see so many things. I met lots of interesting people in the agri-tech space too, from all over the world. I was exposed to a lot of diverse thinking, ways to solve problems, and to technology being used in different contexts. So yeah, the interest in agri-tech was sparked.”

On the potential of technology.

“When I came back to New Zealand, I noticed huge gaps, particularly with growers. Some hadn’t innovated for twenty years. And so, they were struggling to satisfactorily address challenges like consumer dietary preferences, traceability demands and sustainability evidence. New technology is the perfect solution to help address those things.

We can have a thriving, efficient agriculture sector using technology and at the same time achieve the sustainability and climate change goals we might have as a nation.

This is where social media is beneficial. There are always trends or signals that appear, often first on social media – signposts of the future. We need to start proactively picking up on those signals. One of my personal beliefs is to have a bias towards action – just make decisions and course correct later.

In the tech industry we have this concept of MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. It’s the quickest time you can get something of value out to a customer, so that they can try it, then you improve it.

We’re seeing the same thing across agriculture. People are asking, why don’t we just try something and see how it goes? And it doesn’t have to be solving climate change. Because that’s a big problem. It’s a very complex problem.”

We should instead ask, what is the smallest piece that we can carve off and solve? We need lots of players solving little pieces of that bigger problem. And eventually, we’ll all solve it.

On thinking differently.

“I started going to art classes recently – learning to look at problems in new and creative ways. It’s interesting to see people’s differing approaches to the same task – like painting a chair in the middle of a room. We all saw it from different perspectives – but from those perspectives you build a new picture. I like thinking about how we can apply that to the way we look at things in our industry – even just allowing me to approach my job differently.

I attended BOMA, E Tipu recently. One common thread running through many of the speakers was this idea of reframing challenges so that we tackle them from the opportunity rather than the problem.

What really stood out for me was hearing from Geoff Ross. He studied agriculture, but then he focused on creating great consumer brands like 42 Below Vodka.

He presented an aspirational and inspirational idea, something that could galvanise the primary sector. This idea was, could New Zealand be the world’s first climate positive farm? That’s an idea worth exploring. With that idea we know consumers would want to buy from us.

This ties back to my Nuffield social media research as well. Three years ago, you probably wouldn’t have heard about regenerative agriculture for example. Now, because of stories shared on social media, consumers have started to ask – is this produce from a regenerative agriculture ecosystem? Supermarkets like Whole Foods in the United States recognise this too, awarding New Zealand lamb company Atkins Ranch with their Supplier Award for Regenerative Agriculture Commitment.”

I’m interested in how we might catch the tailwind of these signals and ideas to get ahead of the curve too. I think telling better work stories can make that happen.

On Artificial Intelligence in agriculture.

“AI, the version without the gloves, is well and truly here – even still, people get scared of those two letters, AI. That it’s going to take everyone’s jobs and make us all irrelevant. For a different viewpoint, I went to TEDx Auckland recently.

There, Will Hewitt spoke about how medicine is using AI. He quoted Eric Topol who said, “AI won’t replace doctors, but doctors that use it will replace doctors that don’t”. And I think in turn you can replace ‘doctors’ with growers or farmers.

…AI won't replace doctors, but doctors that use it will replace doctors that don't. And I think in turn you can replace that word with growers or farmers.

At WayBeyond we find AI is most useful to growers for modelling six weeks ahead, to predict how many tomatoes they’ll have to meet their commitments to supermarkets. They’ve got thousands of data points, from temperature, from plant growth measurements, from colour change, so many things. That’s a lot of complex data for a human to process. They might get to 80% accuracy in a model.

Now, if you can use AI, you can continuously look at these data points and at the correlations between them. You go from 80% to 90% pretty quickly. The impact of that could be millions of dollars to the bottom line for large scale growers – and hugely reduced food waste.

There’s plenty happening within an operation that a computer just isn’t going to see though. You still need to walk the greenhouse. There are tweaks the grower needs to backfill with their experience.”

So, AI is a support tool for people to make better decisions, not the end of all our jobs.

On the next big leaps in agri-tech.

“They’ll be around solutions that are focused on sustainability. Because it’s something that consumers are driving and it’s important in terms of our shared planetary goals.

We’re going to see more around planetary accounting and carbon, things like that. Consumers want produce they can feel good about, produce that contributes to their morals and ethics.

We’re starting to think about how we can be more sustainable in aquaculture and commercial fisheries. We heard a bit about that at BOMA as well.

We’re in the very early stages of where we could be with artificial intelligence and neural networks. There’s likely to be many more technology applications here.”

…creating a digital twin of a plant or even a cow, would mean we can model and predict so many possible outcomes.

“Things like creating digital twins* of biological systems, and plants too. Digital twins have already been used with aircraft engines and other complex machines. Bringing it into a biological space and creating a digital twin of a plant or even a cow, would mean we can model and predict so many possible outcomes
– like the impact of disease. It’s something we’re looking at within controlled environment growing.”

On making good things happen.

“We’re really focused on return on investment for our grower customers – being able to show the benefits of an innovative change. The innovation must provide value back to them. So, whenever we’re doing a proposal, we’re always showing what the return on investment will be – to the bottom line and to the environment too.

Real industry-wide change will only happen if we hear those stories. Stories about the leaders breaking new ground for the rest of us to follow. And again, social media is key here.

At the end of the day, our customer is that person on the other end of the tweet, or the Instagram post. They’re buying our products, especially when we’re using all the technology at our disposal to do things better, not just by the environment but by future generations too.

I want to help make meaningful change in the way we eat, and the way that connects back to the planet. I’d like to be part of telling the stories that help connect and create solutions for change.”

I think by tackling little parts of big problems, using technology and sharing the stories that inspire others to act, we’ll get there together.

*A Digital Twin is a virtual representation of a physical object or process. It enables the testing of scenarios under varying conditions.

Obituary – Frederick Arthur “Fred” Walsh C.M.

It is with sadness that we announce the peaceful passing of 1960 Canadian Scholar Frederick Arthur “Fred” Walsh C.M. – age 91, of Berwick, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Fred Walsh was one of the stalwarts that helped keep Nuffield Canada alive during its early days and we are pleased to share his obituary with you all.

Fred grew up in Halifax and as a teenager he spent time working on farms in the Annapolis Valley or on his Grandfather’s dairy farm in Coverdale, New Brunswick.

He attended LeMarchant St. School and Rothesay Collegiate in New Brunswick. He entered NSAC and graduated from MacDonald College of McGill University in 1952 with a BSc. in Agriculture with a major in Horticulture. 

Upon graduation Fred moved to the Valley and purchased a farm in Rockland where he grew apples, pears, peaches and plums. He also grew Gladiolis which he shipped all over Atlantic Canada as well as farming hogs, laying hens and beef cattle.

In 1954 he married Mary Mackay and they started their family of six children.

(Blake Vice, 2013 Scholar Chair of Nuffield Canada, spoke to Waldo Walsh, Fred’s son, yesterday. Waldo shared that he was born when his father was away on his Nuffield travels).

Fred had also worked off the farm with the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing, first as a Resource Development Officer from 1972-76 and later as an Agricultural Representative, before retiring in 1994.

After his retirement, Fred spent much time working in his gardens, advising his children on their farming operations and volunteering in the community. Fred had been a member of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association since 1952 and had actively served in many capacities, including Director, Chairman of various committees, and President in 1997.

Fred’s lifetime of volunteering culminated when he was recognized nationally with the Order of Canada in 2007.

Fred received many awards including:

Nuffield Farming Scholarship (1960)
Award of Merit-Canadian Parks and Recreation Association
Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International
CNIB Volunteer Awards
Distinguished Life Member of the Nova Scotia Institute of Agrologists
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal

Fred devoted much time to many organizations, often in a major role, some of which are:

Kings County Councillor
Scotian Gold Cooperative, Member from 1957
Scotian Gold Cooperative, Director
ACA Poultry Cooperative, Past Chairman
Canadian National Institute for the Blind – 18 years as a Board Member, Past Chairman of the N.S. – PEI Divisional Board and three years on the National Council
N.S. Farm Health and Safety Committee
N.S. Rural Beautification Program
N.S. Institute of Agrologists, Past President
Kings Mutual Insurance, Board of Directors

Fred’s ornamental gardens were his passion. He believed in planting shrubs, trees and flowers to celebrate marriages, births, and to honour peoples’ lives. He gave trees he had collected and nurtured from seedling to friends and families to celebrate their special events.

His gardens were the backdrop for numerous photographs of family and community events, marriages and reunions for over 50 years. His tireless work became the “Garden of Memories”, inscribed on a bronze plaque mounted on a large granite rock, dedicated to his family. Ending with the phrase “A Gardener by The Grace of God”, Fred was a man of great faith.

He attended the Berwick United Church where he was a member for over 60 years and held various positions. He was often asked to give the sermon, a request he thoroughly enjoyed because of his ability to effectively communicate his positive outlook on life.

In his role as an Agricultural Representative, Fred dealt with farmers on a daily basis and understood the realities of farming. He was able to inform them of new policies or grants and counsel those experiencing challenges in their farm operations.

Later in life Fred visited local nursing homes because he knew that the residents appreciated the company. It was also common for him to deliver freshly cut flowers from his garden to family, friends, and visitors – just to brighten their day!

He was active in the Elder-Hostel program at Acadia University acting as a tour guide. It was not uncommon for a large bus to appear unannounced in the driveway of the family farm.

Fred was very proud that two of his sons and a grandson continue in the tree fruit industry.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, six children and extended family members.

E TIPU – The Boma NZ Agri Summit

Mark your calendar and get your tickets for E Tipu 2021: The Boma NZ Agri Summit on 11–12 May at Christchurch Town Hall.

This is the must-attend event of the year: two days of international and national speakers, interactive workshops, valuable cross-sector networking, and more.

Learn about new trends, innovative tech, and exponential changes coming at us. Most importantly, you’ll learn how we can adapt our food and fibre sectors to be more innovative, sustainable, collaborative, and profitable now and in the future.

Get full details and secure your place now at etipu.boma.global.

Developing Whanganui region’s agribusiness sector

From left to right: Colleen Sheldon, Whanganui & Partners, David Eade, 2021 Nuffield Scholar, Andrew Watters, NZ Rural Leaders Chair

Rural Leaders & Whanganui & Partners

developing Whanganui region’s agribusiness sector

NZ Rural Leaders and Whanganui & Partners entered into a multi-year agreement last year to offer scholarships to Whanganui residents who directly contribute to the regions agribusiness sector. To be eligible for a Scholarship, candidates must undertake either a Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme or Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

David Eade, 2021 Nuffield NZ Scholar was selected as the first recipient of a Scholarship.

Read more about our partnership with Whanganui & Partners, and about David Eade in this article on page 10 in the Farmers Weekly virtual newspaper:

Rural Leaders partners with Whanganui & Partners to build rural leadership in Wanganui region

Rural Leaders are delighted to announce our new partnership with Whanganui and Partners to help grow regional leaders and entrepreneurial capital in Whanganui’s food and fibre sector.

As part of the sponsorship, two scholarships will be granted to Whanganui residents, or those scholars who directly contribute to Whanganui’s agribusiness sector, who are undertaking a Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme or a Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

Find out more about the new partnership here.

Step up in 2021 – be part of the Kellogg Rural Leadership programme in Tai Tokerau!

Take the next step in your development and do the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme in Tai Tokerau in 2021.

Course dates: 4 May – 21 October  

Applications close on 31 January 2021

Click here for more information on the Kellogg Tai Tokerau Course

2020 Review and look ahead to 2021 with Chris Parsons & Lindy Nelson : Sarah’s Country Interview

Chris Parsons, CEO of Rural Leaders and Lindy Nelson, Founder of Agri-Women’s Development Trust joined Sarah Perriam on Sarah’s Country to talk about the year ahead and what to expect for 2021.

Sarah’s Country Interview : 16th December 2020

Click here to watch the full Sarah’s Country show on demand.

Listen to the podcast here:

Step up in 2021 – be part of the Kellogg Rural Leadership programme in Tai Tokerau!

Take the next step in your development and do the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme in Tai Tokerau in 2021.

Course dates: 4 May – 21 October  

Applications close on 31 January 2021

Click here for more information on the Kellogg Tai Tokerau Course

Chris Parsons Introduces 2021 Nuffield Scholars : Sarah’s Country Interview

In this interview on Sarah’s Country Chris Parsons, CEO of Rural Leaders introduces the 2021 Nuffield scholars and talks about how they will navigate their global research with covid-related travel restrictions.

Chris also touches on the 2020 Nuffield Scholar insights that were presented at the 2021 Nuffield Awards Ceremony, following the work the 2020 Scholars have been doing on the sector impacts of COVID-19.

Listen to the podcast here:

2021 Nuffield NZ Scholarships Awarded

2021 Nuffield Scholars

Photo from left to right: Lynsey Stratford, Daniel Eb, David Eade, Hon Minister Damien O’Connor, John Foley, Ben Anderson 


Media release, Tuesday, 3rd November 2020

The latest cohort of emerging leaders in New Zealand’s primary sector were awarded a 2021 Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarship at Parliament on 3rd November. The Scholarships were awarded by Hon Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture, Biosecurity and Food Safety, Minister for Rural Communities and Minister of State for Trade and Export.

The 2021 Nuffield scholars are Ben Anderson, owner and manager of a dry stock farm in Hawkes Bay, David Eade, owner of a finishing block in Whanganui and GM of Apiary Solutions, Daniel Eb, Auckland based Communication Strategist, John Foley, Senior Seed Production Agronomist for PGG Wrightson Seeds in Christchurch and Lynsey Stratford, an equity partner in a 420 cow dairy farm in Curio Bay and Dairy Environment Leader with Dairy NZ.

Click here to read the 2021 Nuffield Scholar bios.

The travel programme for scholars next year will be different to previous years due to border closures resulting from COVID19.  Typically, the Nuffield Scholarship programme involves travel internationally for at least four months and participation in a Contemporary Scholars Conference with Nuffield Scholars from around the world. Followed by a six-week Global Focus Programme through several countries with other scholars. 

“Next year our scholars will start their programme with extensive national travel to gain greater insights and deeper understanding into New Zealand’s primary sector before embarking on any international travel” says Nuffield NZ Chairman, Andrew Watters.

“Although the programme will be delivered differently to previous years, it will offer scholars new opportunities and experiences, along with a global perspective whether or not scholars travel abroad” says Watters.

The five new Scholars will join more than 160 Nuffield alumni who have been awarded Nuffield Scholarships over the past 70 years. Their research topics are likely to cover a range of different agricultural issues such as climate change, fractional investing in agriculture, repositioning the role that farming plays in society, technology in agriculture around automation of roles and health, safety and wellbeing on farm.

2021 Nuffield Applications : Promo Material

Kia ora!

We’re so pleased to have you promote the Nuffield Farming Scholarship through your networks either as a sponsor or an industry partner.

We appreciate you are busy so this page has everything you need to promote the programme.

Copy and paste the text from sections below to share on your social media channels and EDMs.

Please send any copy outside of the below that you wish to use to  tamneyhoyle@ruralleaders.co.nz to ensure our message is consistent.

We will be posting more content on our social media profiles throughout the campaign to attract more applicants. Your support with our posts is always appreciated!

If you have any additional avenues that could help promote the programme, we’d love to hear from you!


The Nuffield NZ team

To request a copy of our brand guidelines please email Tamneyhoyle@ruralleaders.co.nz.

If you feature our logo on your website or have it stored on file. Please make sure it is our most recent version – one of the below:


Applications close 23 August 2020

Are you an emerging leader with ideas you’d like to explore and bring to life?

Do you have a desire to help shape and lead the future of the Primary Industry? 

If you are, then we strongly encourage you to apply for a Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarship.

There’s no better time then right now to fast track your development as an emerging leader with our Food and fibre sector positioned as the only sector to lead our national economic recovery. Become an expert in your chosen field of study and lead the conversations on the issues the agri-food sector faces today.

A Nuffield experience will help you develop personally, build new networks and gain new insights to share within the business and wider-agri sector.

There is no better way to expand and broaden your experience, transform your way of thinking than a Nuffield Scholarship.

APPLY NOW! For a 2021 Nuffield NZ Scholarship and become a world class leader for our country.

Please forward scholarship enquiries to nuffield@ruralleaders.co.nz.

Five $40,000 NZ Scholarships available 
Applications close on Sunday 23 August 2020.

Useful Links:




Are you an emerging leader with a desire to help shape and lead the future of the Primary Industry?

If you are, then we strongly encourage you to apply for a Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarship.

There’s no better time then right now to fast track your development as an emerging leader with our food and fibre sector positioned as the only sector to lead our national economic recovery.

Become an expert in your chosen field of study and lead the conversations on the issues the agri-food sector faces today.

Five $40,000 Scholarships available
Applications close Sunday, 23 August 2020

Apply now for a Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarship and become a world class leader for our country

Useful Links:



Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarships

Applications close 23 August 2020, don’t miss out! Register your interest! https://ruralleaders.co.nz/interest-form-nuffield/