Farming in a Pressure Cooker

Farming in a Pressure Cooker
By Corrigan Sowman

Corrigan Sowman – Scholar Presentation (May 2020)

Executive Summary

Across the world, pressure on our planet’s ecosystems is forcing society to “rethink” many of our everyday activities. Technology change is raising questions about where and how food can be produced, and the morality of food production.

Agriculture is at a crossroads; past practices are no longer seen as acceptable, often scrutinised by people with half the facts. The result of this situation is farmers are under pressure. They have more to respond to than there is time, money, or that current technology allows. For some, they are overwhelmed, and this is reflected in their mental wellbeing.

The purpose of this study has been to better understand how the pressure that farmers are experiencing impacts on their decisions making? These decisions underpin how the food is produced, and that is important to society, especially for countries such as New Zealand that rely on the prosperity earnt through exporting food.

This study used a four-part process called double diamond design (Banathy, 1996) to complete a broad international investigation into pressure and its effects on the farmer. The aim, to connect how farmers’ thinking is influenced by the pressure around them.

Pressure is described using five factors of uncertainty, high stakes, small margins, fast changes and judgement (Evans, 2019).

Historically farmers have managed pressure well through a multitude of management practices. This has provided them a degree of comfort despite their limited control of the biological systems they operate, systems heavily influenced by external factors such as trade. Growth through productivity has offset falling margins. But if growth is constrained through changing regulation and customer pressure, how do farmers adapt?

This study has explored the psychological factors surrounding thinking under pressure and proposed the use of a model to highlight the need for new skillsets that support accepting challenge over reaction to threat. Farmers are conditioned to recognise threat, often interlinked to their sense of purpose and identity.

How the brain responds to threat is important in understanding how best to facilitate practice change in agriculture. This report recommends a need to place the concept of pressure at the centre of future practice change in agriculture. It suggests new skills in thinking under pressure need to be fostered in farmers to underpin performance in a long-term pressure environment. It draws on the science of thinking under pressure and examples already available in New Zealand to highlight that branding food around origin in the future will rely on investing in the thinking skills of those producing it.

 Read the full report here:

 Farming in a Pressure Cooker: How pressure impacts farmer decision making.
 – Corrigan Sowman, 2019

Farming Energy

Farming Energy: Opportunities to help New Zealand reach net zero carbon 2050
By Cameron Henderson

Cameron Henderson – Scholar presentation (May 2020)

Executive Summary

The New Zealand Net Zero Carbon Act’s main objective is that New Zealand contributes no further to global warming by 2050, a target commonly known as ‘Net Zero Carbon 2050’. To reach this vision, targets have been set for all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in New Zealand. Agriculture, as New Zealand’s largest GHG emitting sector, will face pressure on productivity and profitability as it works towards Net Zero carbon. Other sectors will also face pressure, particularly the energy sector which is New Zealand’s second largest GHG emitting sector. Forecasts show that not only will the energy sector need to transition to low emission alternatives, but the mix of energy types (electricity, gas, oil etc.) will need to shift to meet new technological innovations and increasing energy demand.

Given this challenge, I believe there are opportunities for the sectors to work together for mutual benefit. My travels and report seek to answer the question:

What energy farming opportunities could New Zealand farmers pursue to help our country reach Net Zero Carbon 2050?

Energy farming is where farms generate a form of energy (electricity, gas, fuel or heat) on farm that can be exported for use elsewhere in the economy. To be successful in helping achieve Net Zero Carbon 2050, the farmed energy must have lower GHG emissions that the fossil fuel alternative it is often replacing, and be technically and economically viable for the farmer.

Energy farming may become vital to future energy generation as forecasts show New Zealand’s current energy path, particularly our perceived reliance on hydroelectric power and electric vehicles, will not move the industry far towards Net Zero Carbon 2050.

I set out on my travels to visit a range of energy farming operations in Ireland and California. Both Ireland and California, like New Zealand, have a large and successful agricultural sector and face similar pressure to reduce GHG emissions from all sectors.

Technologically, the range of energy farming options is diverse. Some are already common in New Zealand, like solar and wind power. Others are rare, but innovating rapidly using such technology as Agrovoltaics and anaerobic digestor biogas with refining. Each operation aims to take advantage of local weather conditions or available feedstocks to create a usable energy product. Every energy farming operation in this report could technically work here in New Zealand.

Environmentally, the GHG emissions from each operation was more favourable that the fossil fuel alternative with some even sequestering more carbon than they emit. Consequently, each option would help lower energy GHG emissions in New Zealand.

Economically however, each energy farming operation I examined was influenced heavily by local policy and incentives to make them competitive with cheaper fossil fuel alternatives. The policy and incentives in both California and Ireland were imbedded in their respective government’s energy strategies.

To make these technically and environmentally feasible energy farming opportunities profitable to New Zealand farmers, New Zealand needs an energy strategy that is similarly supportive of energy farming. It turns out, we are in the early stages of developing such a strategy in New Zealand, but the agricultural voice is absent.

To resolve this economic roadblock, I recommend three actions:

  1. Create a Farming Energy Working Group (FEWG), by pulling in expert knowledge from across the agricultural sector in advocacy, science and development. In addition to agricultural experts, include some external energy advice to create a group uniquely skilled in leading energy farming to New Zealand.
  2. The FEWG should enter the New Zealand energy strategy conversation and work alongside the energy sector and government to advocate for, and implement, policy to economically support energy farming. Such polices could include low interest funding of energy farming investments, standards to replace liquid fossil fuel with biofuel alternatives and long term price guarantees for farmed energy.
  3. The FEWG should collate local and international knowledge on energy farming to create case studies and systems that can be demonstrated on farm, both to policy makers and farmers, to build confidence in the future of energy farming.

By implementing these recommendations, every energy farming option outlined in the report, could successfully be pursued by farmers in New Zealand to help the country achieve Net Zero Carbon 2050.

 Read the full report here:
 Farming Energy: Opportunities to help New Zealand reach net zero carbon 2050. 
-Cameron Henderson, 2019

Future Farm Workplaces

Future Farm Workplaces
By Hamish Murray

Hamish Murray – Scholar presentation (May 2020)

Executive Summary

Agriculture is awakening to the challenges of an ageing population and those entering the workforce with a new or differing attitude to work and life. That automation and technology is removing much of the mundane and labour-intensive work, outdated work structures and traditional ways of doing things are not providing the fulfilling work experience that is required to attract, train and retain the people required to power our industry. We are faced with the challenge of adapting our practice to meet the needs of those we employ or risk becoming irrelevant as employers and as an industry.  I set out looking into what makes workplaces motivating and engaging so that they are providing the best work environments for those involved.

My intention with this report and research is to spark small and subtle shifts in the way a leader or participants in a team operate, that lead to a more fulfilling and enjoyable working experience. Then to direct people to some of the resources that have helped shape my learning. My travel and experience have been an opportunity to look at businesses outside of agriculture, both large and small. I have been able to discover examples of reorganising and operation in industries from computer game development to healthcare and professional sport that address changing values and expectations of today’s workforce allowing greater engagement and motivation from those employees.

I have been looking for and have come across great teams who are meeting all the needs of their members and producing great results. I discovered that the most important factor in determining effectiveness is how teams work together. Team members awareness of each other and of the team roles that they fulfill, combined with the group held belief that the environment is safe for interpersonal risk ultimately leads to great trust and dependability illustrated as a mutual accountability.

Reflecting on interviews and notes, four other key elements emerge strongly as significant factors in those successful businesses and teams. Alignment of members on the culture, values and purpose of a business creating shared belief, expectations and responsibility, with the greatest results when real clarity from team members on what that looks, sounds and feels like as actions.

Exposure to the processes, tools and methods used in Design Thinking, Lean and Agile ways of working combine diverse individual thoughts, promotes collaboration and inclusiveness, and operates using a rapid experiment and feedback loops promote fast progress rather than being stifled by the need for consensus and perfection.

Time spent with computer game developers made me aware of the importance of feedback in our lives and especially for providing engaging workplaces where employees have a desire to grow. It highlighted our ability as employers to give feedback is limiting our ability to provide the crucial feedback required to fuel the desire for learning and growth in our employees.

Tied into all the above elements is the requirement for strong leadership from our farm owners and managers. Rather than in the traditional sense of leading from the front, I witnessed the importance of a shared and supportive style where all members of a team exhibit greater awareness and are able to help each other solve their own problems, handle conflict and monitor performance.  

I believe that recognizing the importance of the soft skills in our farm businesses and that learning, teaching and practicing them is crucial in creating those workplaces that are engaging and motivating. This is essential if we as agricultural businesses wish to be able to attract, retain and train people. I believe that small and subtle shifts in each of the areas and strengthening of the connections add like drops to a bucket, to create environments that provide fulfilling work experience for those involved and ultimately happy, healthy and strong communities. This stuff is hard, takes courage to do differently, lead differently and have those courageous conversations.

 Read the full report here:
 Future farm workplaces. -Hamish Murray, 2019

Can we farm without glyphosate?

Can we farm without glyphosate?
By Hamish Marr

Hamish Marr – Scholar Presentation (May 2020)

Executive Summary

In 1974 a product was developed that would revolutionise agriculture. It would go on to be the most used chemical spray in global agriculture largely due to its low toxicity, negligible soil residue and zero plant back period. That product was glyphosate and was sold under the trade name Roundup. It was the product of intensification, of specialisation and globalisation.

There has been much dialogue in the last few years regarding glyphosate and claimed negative impacts on the environment and human health. This dialogue is in part due to its association with genetically modified plants and also as it is the world’s most widely used agrichemical. The classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer has led to calls for a reduction in use and led to a ban in some European Countries.

The aim of this study was to establish, from a farmer’s point of view, what the issues are around glyphosate use, how it is regulated in New Zealand and what farmers in New Zealand could learn from others if a ban or de-registration were to become a reality.
Science is conflicted over glyphosate and its use. However there appears to be no definitive answer or evidence that glyphosate is detrimental to human health or the environment. In contrast there is much correlation between these two factors and a robust conclusion is difficult to draw.

Farmers overseas are successful in reducing their reliance and applications on glyphosate by adopting a more holistic approach to their agronomic management. In cases such as the seed industry in Denmark, the loss of glyphosate would see a shift in farming policy and a move of the industry off shore.

I found no real need for alarm in New Zealand as our current inputs of glyphosate are relatively low and are confined to 6% of our land area. It is important that we retain the option of this product and we as farmers need to be mindful of its use and avoid applications such as pre-harvest weed control.

In isolation farmers can certainly do without glyphosate but at an industry level and global level the loss of this tool would mean a loss of yield, an increase in alternative chemistry, an increase in carbon emissions, higher costs to the farmer and an increase in the price of food.

Central to this issue is a social problem that stems from fear of the unknown, due to a lack of understanding on the part of the consumer but also the farmer. The linear nature of the current value chain means feedback to either end is virtually impossible. This is the biggest challenge of all.

As a result of my observations and reflections I can recommend the following actions for industry:

1.   Avoid pre-harvest weed control on cereal crops and pasture.
2.   Discuss openly the future of agriculture including GMO
3.   Establish a communication loop in the value chain between the consumer and the
4.   Model Glyphosate’s contribution to the economy in New Zealand.

 Read the full report here:
 Can we farm without glyphosate? – Hamish Marr, 2019.

Nuffield Scholarship awarded to Dairy Environment Leader

Nuffield Scholars 2020

Media Release, Tuesday, 5th November 2019

Waikato based, Dairy Environment Leader, Dairy Farmer and recently appointed Dairy NZ board member, Tracy Brown is one of five scholars from across industry sectors awarded a Nuffield NZ Scholarship.  The scholarships were announced on Tuesday, 5th November at parliament by Hon Stuart Nash, Minister of Police, Fisheries, Revenue, and Small Business.

Alongside Tracy Brown, the recipients of Nuffield NZ Farming Scholarships for 2020 are Shannon Harnett, Whakatane based Agriculture and Horticulture Director; Waikato based Phil Weir, Dry Stock Farmer and Agri business Consultant; Southland based Edward Pinckney, director/owner of a dairy farm and sheep, beef and grazing farm, Marlborough based Ben McLauchlan, owner of a 102 H vineyard and 30 H beef finishing unit in Rapaura. 

The Nuffield Scholarships with the three core components provide new Scholars with an opportunity to travel abroad in groups and individually and study the latest developments in a number of leading agricultural countries. 

“The reputation and prestige of a Nuffield Scholarship opens the doors for new Scholars to access international businesses like Amazon, John Deere and Blue Apron – businesses that are behind and beyond the farm gate.  No other programme can offer this type of access to these globally recognised companies” says Nuffield NZ Chairman Andrew Watters.

Ms Brown who is a champion for sustainability, and has been leading environmental change in the dairy industry for nearly a decade sees the Scholarship as an opportunity to gain insight into the policies and processes other countries are using to create positive environmental change.

 “While I have been active in the NZ environmental space, this experience will enable me to gain the international networks and experience that will add to my effectiveness in the roles I have or will have in the future” says Ms Brown.

The five new scholars will join more than 160 Nuffield alumni who have been awarded Nuffield Scholarships over the past 70 years. The 2020 research topics are likely to cover issues such as – Understanding the international policies and processes that have created positive environmental change; How Plant Variety Rights provide growers the opportunity to successfully develop new business internationally; Exploration of the NZ primary sector to determine if there are fundamental barriers restricting collaboration; developing and growing our young people entering the agricultural sector; Enhancing the sustainability of Viticulture by lessening its reliance on scarce resources.

Anne Hindson: Update from the Management

Anne Hindson, General Manager Rural Leaders

Anne Hindson, General Manager

This will hopefully be the last E-Nuff in the current format, as we develop a new look e-newsletter which covers the activities of ‘Rural Leaders’ and includes updates on both programmes.

Much of what we want to say is relevant to both groups of alumni (some of who overlap) so the new E newsletter will have organisation updates with the option to click through to the latest Nuffield or Kellogg news including scholar reports, insights and updates specific to each programme or group of alumni.

Our ‘E-Nuff’ & ‘Kellogg Konnect’ will be retained for use when conversing with each group on a programme only basis.

We Need a Name – Win the prize!

We are looking for a name for our new Rural Leaders E Newsletter. Get your creative juices going and send in some ideas and win a prize and the honour of renaming our newsletter.

Send ideas to annehindson@ruralleaders.co.nz

Key Activities since last E-Nuff

A new initiative for 2019, 6 regions were chosen to host a Regional Alumni networking event, bringing together different cohorts and both Kellogg and Nuffield alumni.  With Napier/Hastings, Tauranga, Whangarei, Blenheim, Gore & Hamilton locations there was a mix of our smaller and larger regions.

The purpose of the initiative was to provide a vehicle for:

  • alumni to meet each other – across programmes & cohorts
  • reconnect with Rural Leaders & its developments as a new Trust
  • introduce potential new applicants to both programmes
  • hear the reports and experience of a recent Nuffielder and Kellogger from the region
  • investing partners regional reps to connect with alumni for B2B and network development

One of the highlights demonstrating the power and history of the programmes was in Waikato where we had an original Kellogger from Course 1 1979 and a current Kellogger from Course 40. Similar span of alumni years were also seen in other regions.

After fantastic feedback, despite the late timing of the events, the plan is to roll out the concept in 6 more regions next year.  Meanwhile we will work with each of the recent region hosts to determine a sustainable networking format for the future.

Feedback has been really positive about the benefits of networking and potentially providing some upskilling opportunities and/or providing a voice on some regional issues although in some regions we battle the problem of distance with some having to drive over 2 hours each way to attend a central location.

The recruitment of a full time marketing person will provide a much needed resource and ability to be much more effective with our external and internal communications and relationships and keeping the brand presence throughout the year. We hope to report our new appointment in the next newsletter in early December.

A board sub committee has been working with Scott Champion on refining our strategy and business plan over the next few years as we respond to market changes but more importantly work on developing and growing our alumni programme and influence.

Our 2020 Nuffield Scholarships have recently closed and the selection process is underway. This year we have a good number of female candidates with six being shortlisted so we hope that we can achieve a better gender balance this year.  The Awards will be held at Parliament, hosted by Hon Damien O’Connor, on 5 November (a relevant place to be on Guy Fowkes). Watch for the pre announcement email to alumni announcing the 2020 scholars.

The Awards will be preceded by a forum with the 2019 Scholars sharing their global insights and discussing implications for the industry with our investing partners & Trustees, hosted by KPMG.

The Nuffield2020 Triennial is gaining momentum with an updated programme released and registrations opening on 1 September. Check out the website here https://www.nuffield2020.com/programme.

We are really pleased to welcome some new partners who have come on board to support this international event alongside our existing Rural Leader investing partners. Check out the next Triennial EDM for the latest details & updates. The one day Summit is shaping up to be a great event and watch out for speaker announcements shortly.

The support of our New Zealand alumni to attend and host our international guests is critical to the success as we want to showcase some of our leading business models, on farm and environmental practices and agri tech to our international colleagues & guests.

Chair, Michael Tayler and the team are hoping all alumni will use the event to encourage reunions of your Nuffield cohort and international networks.

Upcoming Events

Kellogg Course 1 2020 Applications close:             14 October

2020 Nuffield Scholar Awards:                                  5 November 

2019 Scholar Insights Forum:                                     5 November

Kellogg Course 40 phase 3 presentations:             25-28 November

Nuffield2020 Early bird registrations close:           30 November

Anne Hindson

September 2019

Click here to go back to the newsletter.

Ben Hancock: Global Focus Programme

Ben Hancock
Ben Hancock, 2019 Nuffield New Zealand Scholar

United States – Czech Republic – Bulgaria – Romania – Qatar – Kenya


The Global Focus Orogramme (GFP) was an incomparable opportunity to see a diversity of agriculture in across a variety of countries. We were given candid insight into our hosts businesses, operations, motivations for being in agriculture and what they want to give back, even bringing our group of nine scholars into their homes for a cup of tea, meal or a drink.

These frank and open conversations were some of the highlights for me personally, where some hosts would openly discuss some of their business and personal challenges in agriculture. I found these moments golden, particularly in the middle of a leadership development opportunity as the Nuffield Scholarship. But it was gratifying to give back to some hosts in helping in their current challenges with the varied opinions and experiences of the nine scholars.

Travelling with the group of Nuffield scholars was invaluable experience and formed friendships that will last. After seeing some amazing and challenging aspects of global agriculture, the opportunity to discuss this with a diverse group of young agricultural leaders from different sectors and countries – Brazil, Canada, USA, Ireland and Australia (and Tasmania) – drew so much more out of the experience. We all had our different backgrounds, contexts and perspectives to bring to these discussions, and we need not agree – I’m writing this in the home of one of the scholars that we have some disagreements on fundamental elements of agriculture.

There was so much to see during the GFP  through Washington DC, Kentucky, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Qatar and Kenya. It would be difficult to concisely describe just the highlights from each country so I have focused on a couple overarching observations from the two countries that were probably the most different from New Zealand – Qatar and Kenya.


The context we were given on arrival to Qatar – other than the immense wealth of the small gulf state – was the shadow cast by the blockade. The blockade by many of Qatar’s neighbours has been in place since June 2017, impacting their previous food supply chain through countries such as Saudi Arabia. Food security was a major driver the majority food production and supply businesses we saw due to the very real and near threat of not being able to import food in a small desert nation.

After the initial awe of seeing some of these amazing agricultural feats – such as dairy farming and growing fodder in the desert – I got the impression that there was prestige than production in these operations. This was reinforced when we saw the largest grain importer and miller that had impressive logistical, processing and storage capability to maintain supply and volume – production was not a part it. Does livestock production count as food security when it is limited by the volume of imported feed? Would it not be simple to utilise the more efficient production from around the world and advance the logistical solutions and storage capability?

If you removed the heat and oxygen, some of the production might be what one would imagine farming on the moon may be. This pushing the boundaries of production are worth taking note as a demonstration of what is possible but, in the context of a variety of growing global social concerns around agriculture, may be limited in its impact.

However, in the position that Qatar has been put in, the prestige of these feats can be understood. Drawing a line in the sand, so to speak, to show what they can do despite of the imposition by their neighbours. Qatar’s response to this situation appeared to create a national pride and social inclusion in the achievements being made.


An afternoon spent with Kenyan smallholders that are part of a collective, similar to our discussion group, set me straight on some of my assumptions that I had developed. We frequently saw some agricultural practices through central Europe and Kenya that would not be generally accepted in our own farming industries, but this group changed my view I had formed of smallholder and subsistence farming. The intensity and diversity of what they were able to do on such small plots was remarkable – but this may be also be a limitation – and were organised and actively seeking ways to improve their production and position.

We held a panel session with the smallholder collective and we were asked directly how they could become farmers that were able to travel the world like ourselves. A common view from our Nuffield group was simplifying their production to what works well and not trying to do everything and anything – one farm had dairy cattle, sheep, honey, pyrethrum, fruit, vegetables, chickens and fodder with the excess to be sold. However, as smallholders they were more exposed by a crop failure and require a level of diversity for security.

On reflection, I saw the infrastructure and economic limitations created by political climate was a significant hindrance on developing production and ability to trade. This is not a simple fix as impacts the wider economy and, despite some the frustrations we me have in our own countries, gave me a great appreciation for context we are able to operate and trade.

The second major eye-opener in Kenya also related to this political climate. We visited farming operations that had been established for a long time – whether multi-generational family farms, internationally funded agri-businesses or NGOs – which have invested in their local communities and introduce adapted and sustainable production methods to Kenyan agriculture. Each of these had either been or were currently involved in land invasions by graziers or land grabbers that can have violent or even lethal outcomes. The political climate often exacerbates or can drive these conflicts.

However, Kenya has a young population that is more and more educated, and, while there was some significant signs of poverty – such as the largest slum in Africa – there was large growth in relative affluence. The combination of increasing wealth and a young educated population coming through generates huge potential for their economy – if they can overcome some of their institutional handbrakes.


The GFP has been transformative for myself. It has raised more questions than were answered of my understanding of global agriculture, but my understanding and empathy of the situations in which these questions are formed has expanded immensely. While not perfect, I have a greater appreciation of the circumstances that the New Zealand agriculture sector can operate in and that we can deliver to the world.


Follow Cam Henderson on Twitter @BenOfTheWai


Follow the links below to read the rest of the Global Focus Programme Reports from 2019:

Click here to go back to the newsletter.

Hamish Murray: Global Focus Programme

Proposed new freshwater rules
Hamish Murray, 2019 Nuffield Scholar

Singapore – Philippines – Hong Kong – China – Germany – United States

Reflecting on six weeks traveling around the world with our China GFP group and the opportunity to contrast Asia, Europe and America, I am struck not by the differences between countries or continents but more importantly the similarities. I observed relationships and trust are common to success anywhere in the world and the importance innovation and adaptability has for surviving and thriving.


On the 5th of June I joined nineteen other scholars in Singapore for a brief introduction of South East Asia and it was quickly illustrated the size and impact the region has on our current and future markets. Singapore has and is positioning itself as an independent and secure hub to facilitate trade in the area. It was also the start of forming a bond with a group of diverse individuals from different backgrounds spanning different production systems and seven different countries.


Manilla and the Philippines was the breakaway, providing our smaller group of ten a brief but exciting stop, not only for the cheep beer and food but a quick insight into what much of the SE Asian region is still like, managing its way through developmental projects as it lifts population out of subsistence. Visiting the International Rice Research Institute we learnt that over four billion people every day rely on rice as a stable challenging me to consider my own lack of knowledge of such a significant part of the worlds food equation.

Hing Kong, SAR China

Hong Kong into the middle of Human Right protests gave an insightful view of the main event China,  and our building anticipation continued. Our group had begun to form into a cohesive unit, efficient use of public transport, coordinated logistics, more concentrated questioning and inquiry and the ability to adapt to the challenges presented, showed we were becoming a great team holding us in good stead for the remainder of our travel.


Having visited Shanghai once previously it was exciting to see many of the groups perceptions shattered on discovery that it is a clean, organised and developed city (albeit with 26million people).

Introductions with MLA, ADM etc amongst the others from the ANZ, Cotton Inc, JWM, CBH and Syngenta over the last ten days had given the obligatory introductions so with the excitement of kids is a toyshop we rode a bullet train at 315km/ hr for Qihe in the Shandong province.

The size and scale of China became evident as we witnessed the changes moving north and inland. Highways with several lanes in either direction, multi number high rise complexes popping up and the efficiency of nearing 30,000 km of high speed rail network built in the last decade were all on show making the fact that China has used more concrete in the three years than the USA the did in the entire 20th century very real and relevant.

The realisation that there are two separate economies in China, became evident as we confronted the existing subsistence of small holdings in rural areas contrasted with enormous dairy farms and processing facilities. This acted as a metaphor illustrating difference between the large developed coastal cities and large parts of rural China growing at quite separate rates. We learned that in 40 years China has gone from 17.9% to 58.5% urbanised meaning a shift of some 640 million people to urban areas. Following a similar trend of urbanisation, another 15-20% means approximately another 220-250 million shifting to Cities in the ten years (equal to about two thirds of the current US population).

Seeing the importance of trade within China between its people and regions, and accounting for the fact China has approximately 1.4 billion people and only 7% of the worlds arable land. It became evident we need China as much as China needs the world. We encountered willing and open people, doing good business in the ways similar to all of our countries. Sharing a formal meal with a group of officials it became obvious the importance of relationships and how they are formed. Like anywhere in the world the level of that trust facilitates the exchange, however it is the cultural diversity or rituals around the way in which that trust its formed that differs between people.

European Union, Germany & Ireland

Inner Mongolia and Beijing rounded out China before jumping into Europe and the precision and efficiency of Germany. We were fortunate to see some of the contrasts between east and west as we travelled from one to the other. This allowed us to gain some insight into the challenges facing further eastern bloc countries and when overcome their potential for large scale production of food.

The role of the EU was evident as we toured Germany and Ireland but what became obvious was that successful enterprises has mastered their production in a two to three areas and continued to innovate at the edges. I was particularly impressed by the way these  successful businesses demonstrated fast feedback loops created providing useful information to launch or pivot when changes arose.

Washington, DC

Our two GFP Groups combined once again, this time in Washington DC to come face to face with the position the USA has and continues to play on a global geopolitical spectrum. It was cool to catch up with a similar Nuffield group and share our experience as it highlighted how much we have seen and how close the experience of a Nuffield GFP brought our particular group together. A welcomed rest day could have been used to recharge or some time to ourselves but we unconsciously chose to  come together, spending the time riding lime scooters visiting the sites of the Capitol!

I will never understand the complexity of the US and its political system, especially in three short days but some context from meetings with Senators, lobbyists and the USDA allowed insights not many get the opportunity to have. However, I came away thinking again that USA is an enormous engine with many hierarchical layers, entrenched views and complex processes of government so that like an aircraft carrier it has very little ability to change direction and when it does only one degree at a time.

Texas, United States

If Iowa was the start of our Nuffield in March, Texas provided the perfect book end. Over six weeks we met many proud and passionate people sharing their businesses and stories. None more so than Texans which highlighted an observation that a strong sense of identity provides real power in a market. The Chinese had very a strong sense of being Chinese despite incredible diversity, the truly Irish – Irish brand capturing value for what we recognise from Ireland, and Go Texan slogan all illustrating shared history and values for those regions. My observation is that we are all individuals but get a real sense of motivation and engagement from belonging to a team and in these last two cases has translated to market positioning from combined effort.

Over six weeks visiting farm businesses, industry bodies and political institutions were heard talk all over the world of the challenges being faced with environmental regulation, the growing disconnect with agriculture, human resource limitations, no succession planning, undervalued food or lack of profitability in our farming enterprises just to name a few,  which brings me back to where this started. I am struck by the similarities the agricultural world is facing.

The problems and challenges all over the world over are the same, just they are dressed in different clothes.

I have been very fortunate to contrast seven countries and three continents in six weeks with a group of intelligent agriculturalists. They have helped me to look at things from different angles and to process what we have seen, at each stage challenging me to ask a better question with new information gathered!

We could never hope to have understand the world in that time, or find the answers to questions but what I am incredibly grateful for is the knowledge, experience and insights gained to continue learning and asking better questions!

Follow Cam Henderson on Twitter @hamemurray

Follow the links below to read the rest of the Global Focus Programme Reports from 2019:

Click here to go back to the newsletter.

Cameron Henderson: Global Focus Programme

GFP Brazil: Seven International Scholars, Six Weeks, Five Countries

Washington DC

At the conclusion of the Nuffield conference in Iowa, our GFP group left the melting snow and ice for Washington DC. The political engine in the US is both impressive and scary. We met with many agricultural lobby groups and the US Department of Agriculture. Trade is at the top of the agenda with many still supporting the full fair and free trade message despite the pain inflicted on the rural communities by the current trade war with China. Interim subsidy programs are in place to keep farmers happy but on the day of our departure the administration announced cuts to farmer support programs, including crop insurance, in an effort to cut spending. My key learnings came from the experienced Washington players.

  • Focus your messaging on the ‘movable middle’ population
  • Having experience being lobbied makes you a better lobbyist.
  • Politics is all about networks
  • The NZ Embassy in Washington has a great bar in the basement for networking.


Down the coast in Florida we saw a state that is aiming to take over from California as the produce capital of the US. We saw blueberries, carrots, tomatoes, sweetcorn, nuts all grown on large scale and timed to fit into a value window where, for a few weeks each year, Florida is the source of produce for the major US supermarkets. Most family farmers are at the mercy of brokers and manufacturers for pricing but a few are looking to innovative marketing ideas of their own (Satsuma chapstick anyone?).

I was very impressed with the community extension service of the University of Florida. Their experienced agents have created outstanding demonstrations, facilities, programs and guides to pass on the University’s research and knowledge to farmers and the general community. Despite the US administration’s current views on climate change, the University is performing research on GHG mitigation, particularly with animals, that we should watch closely. Key Florida lessons

  • Controlling more of the value chain is more profitable but requires more capital, risk and knowledge.
  • Focus on your window of value in the market.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something completely new
  • Farm near a beach – it helps with managing stress 
Cam Henderson, Florida GFP


The visit to Mexico was very short with two days spent at CIMMYT, the wheat research facility near Obregon. The farmer run facility is completely a not-for-profit that develops parent genetics of wheat to breeders around the world. They also run plant breeder training programs and help the local farmers of Sonoma State with everything from agronomic advice to irrigation infrastructure. We also visited a local grain cooperative and finished off with a walking tour of Mexico City. The history of this city is amazing having being built on the ruins of the Aztec empire. The blending of the native bloodlines with the colonising Spanish is creating a modern challenge in defining the nations identity not unlike our own.

Key Mexican lessons:

  • Farming doesn’t always have to be about making a dollar (or peso).
  • There is a bright future for well-run cooperatives.
  • Pride in your identity is a powerful marketing message.


Our Brazilian leg started in the capital Brasilia, a city of 4 million people that was just farmland sixty years ago. It was founded as the development of Brazilian land headed east away from the coast during a time when much of central and northern Brazil was opened up for agriculture. In the 1970s Brazilian farming families from the south moved north to open up farmland for cropping with new technology and financial incentives. With so much land available, family farms in this area now often exceed 50,000 ha.

With land development came pressure on natural resources, particularly the rainforest and soils. Brazilian farmers and government have responded quickly to these issues with 60% of all crops in Brazil now using no till systems and a Forestry Code that protects large tracts of the native rainforest. There is also a great awareness among farmers of how the Amazon forest contributes to the highly valued rainfall patterns in Brazil.

We saw a range of highly developed, innovative and massive farming operations that are held back by a lack of political stability and logistics to move produce to port. If these two issues were to be resolved, Brazil would rival any country in the world as an agricultural powerhouse.

Key lessons from Brazil:

  • Our natural environment is important for our own success and for our public reputation. We must work harder to protect it. If Brazil can do it so can we.
  • NZ exports competing on price or volume has a limited life
  • Genetic engineering is at the core of Brazilian agriculture development. Would we be left behind without it?


Our tour of the Netherlands focused on the centre of the country with visits to pig, dairy, flower and vegetable farms. To me the country was one big garden and a testament to the innovative thinking of the Dutch – intricate drainage networks, reclaimed land, robotic dairies, wind turbines, fields of glass houses (even a university inside a glass house).

Digging into the success of Dutch agriculture two key factors emerge.

  1. Animal based agriculture in the Netherlands relies on cheap imported (GE) grains through the local port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest seaport.
  2. A European customer base of over 500 million people all within easy trucking distance of the Netherlands and all within a single customs market (EU).

The Netherlands has an input based environmental regulation (e.g. stocking rate and fertiliser rate limits) compared to New Zealand’s output based regulation (you can do what-ever you like so long as you don’t leach above a certain number). The result appears to be a tick box exercise to get the environmental subsidy without a deeper understanding of why the practices are important or what else farmers could be doing to improve environmental outcomes. For example soil moisture monitoring was not common under irrigation nor were buffer strips used to prevent sediment runoff.

Key lessons from the Netherlands:

  • Technology and innovation can overcome nearly any obstacle
  • Look for your unique advantages and exploit them.
  • Be wary of statistics – Netherlands is Europe’s largest ag exporter but only because it imports a third of that produce through Rotterdam (the Netherlands exported $500 million of bananas last year but didn’t grow a single one.)
  • Output based environmental regulation is a greater challenge to implement but creates a better long term outcome than input based regulation.

New Zealand

The final week of the GFP was spent in the Nelson and Marlborough regions touring previous Nuffielder’s innovative farming operations.

Andy Elliot (2018 Scholar) introduced us to aquaculture at the Cawthron Institute and Wakatu. Cawthron Institute is a pioneer in shellfish spat production. Wakatu, a shining example of the booming Maori economy, grows out the shellfish in the Marlborough Sounds and has developed its story into a successful brand and 500 year business plan.

Julian Raine (1997 Scholar) showed us Wai West Horticulture, a multiple family owned business growing apples, kiwifruit and boysenberries near Nelson. He is currently exploring nutraceutical applications of the fruit in China. Julian’s other projects include his role on the Primary Sector Council (a concept the other scholars were very impressed with) and Oakland Dairies. Oakland Dairies milks a small herd on the Nelson city boundary and provides most of the food service outlets in Nelson with A2 milk in glass bottles. There are also a few local vending machines which are very popular with the locals. His Aunt Jeans brand is distributing the milk nationwide.

Murray King (2003 Scholar) has strong ties to dairy and is particularly proud of his latest joint venture Appleby Farms, an ice cream producer in Nelson. Appleby has clocked up a string of successes since launching in 2017. A New Zealand gold medal ice cream award within 12 months and  is now available in 380 stores in New Zealand. I would recommend the Bad Boys and Berries (Boysenberry) flavour!

John Palmer (1989 Scholar) has had the odd governance role in New Zealand but is now focused on his family farm growing pip fruit, hops and kiwifruit in Nelson. He also introduced us to the McCashin family hop operation, an inspiring story of growth and innovation in a niche market.

Hamish Murray’s (2019 scholar) family farm Bluff Station near Kekerengu suffered massive damage in the Kaikoura earthquake but is rebuilding into a strong, multigenerational family business. As is John Murphy (2014 Scholar) who is growing family business Marlborough Garlic into a producer of high quality garlic and shallots while always looking for new opportunities (keep an eye out for Garlic Noir).

A flying visit to Wellington to visit Ministers O’Conner and Shaw to talk the future of farming, and stops at MPI’s economic research unit and Beef and Lamb to discuss strategy and Taste Pure Nature left us all feeling very impressed with the state of NZ ag and the other GFP scholars looking at the local real estate ads in the hopes of moving here!

Key lessons from New Zealand

  • Farmers tend to like working on their own but the success of the business we saw relied on strong partnerships and teams.
  • Tell your story using six words (Thanks for the advice Julian!)
  • Kiwi hospitality is second to none.

The GFP experience highlighted to me the diversity in opportunities and challenges that exist in agriculture around the world. Ultimately most agricultural markets were trying to do two things – at a macro level, feed 9 billion mouths by 2050 while at a micro level, add value to produce to generate greater profitability. And achieve both while minimising environmental impact.

New Zealand is as well placed as any nation to achieve this goal.

Many thanks to the many farmers, businesses, organisers and sponsors who made this experience possible and to my GFP travel mates who shared many insights, experiences and laughs along the way.

I look forward to my personal travel where the real work begins!

Follow Cam Henderson on Twitter @camohenderson

Follow the links below to read the rest of the Global Focus Programme Reports from 2019:

Click here to go back to the newsletter.