Comment: Farming scholarship broadens perspective

At home, near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, we grow just over 800 hectares of combinable crops and operate a farm plastic waste recycling business, Agri-cycle Ltd.

In front of maize, grown on a farm in Brazil.

In early 2009, I joined George F White LLP, a rural surveying firm operating within Yorkshire and the North East, where I provide professional advice principally covering landlord and tenant matters, farm business consultancy, compensation, valuations and rural asset portfolio management.

Unbelievable diversity, vast opportunities and incredible people are what make global agriculture so interesting, but everywhere faces challenges.

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Having travelled with eight other international farmers across California and Brazil on a Nuffield Farming Scholarship - a scheme that funds global travel to study agriculture and food - I’d like to share with you a brief flavour of my trip.

Scale and diversity in California is incredible, is produces 65 per cent of the total US non-citrus fruit and nut harvest. The dairy and beef sectors are also huge, we visited a dairy farm milking over 3,500 Holsteins and a beef feedlot measuring one square mile, with 125,000 head of cattle held in outdoor pens that offered shade from the intense sun.

Water, or the lack of it, and labour are two key challenges that California faces. Aquifers are rapidly depleting and without investment in more efficient water technologies and infrastructure, California’s water uncertainty remains a huge problem.

The agri-sector has a strong reliance on a manual workforce, predominately Mexicans. Legislation has recently been passed, raising the minimum wage from $10-15 an hour by 2020, after just increasing from $7.

Visiting Brazil, you cannot help but be amazed by the sheer speed in which the agri sector has developed. In 1993, Brazil’s share of world exports, by volume, was just 15 per cent for soyabeans, eight per cent for sugar and 13 per cent for poultry. Today these figures are 41 per cent, 47 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.

Brazil is well on her way to becoming an agricultural superpower, but there are big ticket items that need to be addressed, such as political stability, investment in infrastructure and education, especially within rural areas.

A highlight was visiting a 7,000 hectare arable farm in south Brazil growing soya and maize, with three crop rotations achieved per year.

With ample rainfall, a warm climate, good soils, innovative technologies and novel cropping rotations, Brazil has undoubted opportunities, but her challenge lies in tackling other issues so her agricultural potential can be truly realised.

As I continue my Nuffield scholarship over the next year, I will be exploring issues surrounding short-term land occupation and will be questioning whether our most valuable asset, soil, is progressively coming under strain as businesses look for short-term gain.

I whole-heatedly recommend the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust; for those interested in applying, please refer to www.nuffieldscholar.org.

The closing date for award recommendations is July 31.

Robert Moore is a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group which is supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. It brings together younger farmers, vets and industry supporters. For more information, email [email protected]