Friday, April 12, 2024

Nuffield’s new crop picked: what does it tell us about the sector?

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Selection gives a glimpse of the enormous talent in the sector, says Craig Page.
Nuffield 2024 scholars announcement in The Grand Hall at Parliament. Photo copyright Mark Coote for Rural Leaders.
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TheNuffield Scholarship class of 2024 has been announced and once again it has given us a glimpse of the enormous talent that exists in New Zealand’s primary sector.

From the Waikato to Hawke’s Bay, Central Otago and Southland, no stone was left unturned to find the best recipients for the highly prized award.

The scholarship was established 73 years ago to help fast-track the professional development of those in the food and fibre sector. 

The criteria for applicants was a desire to hold positions of influence in their field and to give back to their industries and rural communities. Scholars come from a variety of backgrounds: from hands-on farming in agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, aquaculture, seafood, apiculture and forestry, through to research, regulatory and agri-professionals.

The prize is considered by many to be career defining and provides a chance to travel the world, carry out research and, ultimately, benefit New Zealand.

The latest recipients were announced at a ceremony hosted by outgoing Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and the New Zealand Rural Leadership Trust at Parliament last week. 

Carlos Bagrie, an Otago-based sheep, beef and arable farmer, will focus his research on circular farming systems that reduce waste while improving the bottom line.

Central Hawke’s Bay agri-investments portfolio manager and dairy farmer Rachel Baker will look at the impact of existing and proposed global food strategies on food producers.

Jenna Smith, a Coromandel Māori agribusiness CEO and dairy farmer, will focus on climate change-related land use changes, and Peter Templeton, a fifth-generation Southland dairy farmer, will pursue his interest in the future of farming and the role of innovation.

The winners should draw inspiration from those who have gone before them.

Nuffield scholars were first recognised in 1950 when Brian Murphy of Kaponga, Taranaki and Sir Charles Hilgendorf of Canterbury were named. Sir Charles would be knighted in 1980 for services to the New Zealand Meat Producers Board. 

Since then around 180 people have received the honour, many going on to become leaders and household names in the agricultural sector.

NZ Rural Leadership Trust chair Kate Scott, herself a Nuffield scholar in 2018, previously told Farmers Weekly it was a life-changing opportunity but completing the scholarship was just the beginning.

“It’s asking ‘What next?’ and how we apply what we’ve learnt, and how we give that back to our sector – to the primary sector. That’s the really exciting piece,” she said.

Up until 1971 only two scholarships were handed out each year, but as many as five are now awarded. 

The rising cost of travel meant scholarship values increased this year and the number of scholars for 2024 was capped at four to ensure recipients are able travel and gain international experience. 

As the new intake goes about planning and preparations for the year head, we look forward with anticipation as to how their travels and research might benefit NZ agriculture.

As the Nuffield Scholarship’s application documentation says, “if you’re considering applying, it’s important to remember you don’t need to have a degree or any form of academic background to do so. You just need to be motivated enough to make things happen.

“We’re looking for the grounded doers – the people who try to make difference in their teams, their communities and industries.”

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