Hamish Murray 2019 Nuffield Scholar: CSC Report

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A look into the Land Grant University system and their education, research and extension work reminded me of the importance of strong institutions in our agriculture sector.

Travelling to the American mid-west in the middle of winter was a shock to the system. Stepping out after 6 weeks of 25-30 degrees into -5 was only the first, there were many more surprises instore as we explored the States of Illinoi and Iowa, the corn and soybean capital of the world for a week before joining the Nuffield 2019 Contemporary Scholars Conference in Ames.

A week together allowed the five kiwis to quickly acclimatise and the chance to use some of the work done in preparation for the year ahead. A meeting with the Chicago IDEO office in the first days of our visit, quickly challenged our thinking as it provided new insights in to the processes and insights from a professional Design Thinking Team. The idea of a broader design brief, multi-functional teams and the testing a small protypes with ever present feedback loops quickly became a theme for the week.

We went to the Fonterra head office in Chicago for a quick overview of their US operations, before heading to an Agritech Summit at the University of Illinoi. A look into the Land Grant University system and their education, research and extension work reminded me of the importance of strong institutions in our agriculture sector. The Summit illustrated both their role in innovation of ideas and the verification of data providing confidence in research. The public private partnerships were providing benefits to the all involved.

  • Students gaining real world experience, and reward for work rather than ever increasing student loans
  • Tech talent paired with innovated companies at a lower cost than Silicon Valley competition
  • A beach head for tech, engineering and biotech students into Ag which would previously not have been considered
  • Real world experience and innovation without the downside risk, providing a pipeline of ideas
  • Sharing data and ideas in collaborative ways between seemingly competing companies
  • Real importance of discovery teams for addressing the real need (ICOR teams)

De Moine, the global head office of John Deere and combine factory was a highlight, not only because like little boys in a toyshop we were excited to see the big gear, but for me it illustrated how the culture of a company flows right through from top to bottom. The guy on the factory floor had as much pride in his work as the tour guide showed and allowed us access to sit at the table in the board room. Examples of how they have instilled that culture and have been able to maintain it over 180 years were evident throughout and a good reason why they are one of only and handful of companies to sit within the Fortune 500 for over 50 years.

The five kiwi scholars hit the ground running as we joined 70 other International Scholars in Ames, however at this point it stepped up a gear again and we got a further shock to our already overloaded systems. We had built a tight group and some confidence amongst each other, but even as I sit and write this report on the plane home it is hard to explain what just happened.  The intensity of the CSC, meeting so many other scholars, a packed programme of speakers and panels, field trips and social events kept pushing me to the edge all week. On reflection it is an incredible exercise in human capacity building, and I am excited for the next step in this year as I travel for GFP in June.

Three further brief points of interest – gleaned from the CSC and travels

  • America an example of big Ag – bigger, faster, stronger however this is slowing and beginning to shift more to thinking about smarter more efficient and lower impact.
  • Heard a lot about feeding the world – but it is no longer about growing more when 40% of the food grown is wasted. Consideration is shifting to the importance of providing the right nutrition to underfed and those overfed as everything in this later area is reducing our ability to tackle the 1st problem
  • Food trends breaking into three sectors – convenience now, convenience delivery and bulk buying of quality, natural and almost unlabelled product.
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