Monthly Archives: July 2016

When Nuffield Becomes A Social Experiment #NuffieldAg

John, Matt, Ray, Luke, Debbie, Adam, Ben, Clair & Jess

Nine strangers, 44 days, 6 countries, shared accommodations and personalities as diverse as our farming backgrounds; this is a potential recipe for disaster. But what happened in fact was the complete opposite, a group committed to learning, experiencing and above all having fun, while making the most out of the Nuffield Global Focus Program. 

It has been a true honour travelling with this remarkable group of farmers and professionals. I’ve spent time writing about the places and meetings we’ve had, but I want to dedicate this blog to my fellow travelling partners, known as Team India as we ventured through Singapore, India, Qatar, Turkey, France and USA.

John Keely

To start, let me introduce you to the senior member of our team, John Keely. Although we loved to remind him of his age, John was truly young at heart. A dairy farmer milking 340 cows in Victoria, Australia, he left the business in good hands with his son Harrison in charge along with his father and wife Michelle.

John was nearly always the earliest riser who thrived on being on time. If it was cows or more cows, he was ready to talk, about the only thing more that John loves is his Collingwood Football team. 

What I value in John, was his life experience of growing his business, at the same time as being in very regular contact with his wife and family back home. John spoke with excitement about each of his three adult kids and I know he couldn’t wait to share the next leg of his journey with Michelle.

Adam Coffey

Adam Coffey has perhaps been the busiest of the Nuffield group. Since meeting back in March, Adam and his wife Jacynta and two young sons have not only sold their livestock in Nothern Territory Australia, but moved three thousand kilometres to Queensland, where as first generation farmers they’ve acquired their first farm. As exciting of times are at home, Adam only had a few short weeks at the new farm before departing across the world. 

Family wise, Adam and I are most similar with his kids being 5 and 2 years old, we both must have amazing wives. I really appreciate Adam’s outlook on life, an optimist that is willing to try new ideas and create a future for his family. 

What I appreciate about Adam is that he is easy going and rolled with the punches, however it was early in the trip I discovered his very short attention span with a need to keeping meetings informative, yet efficient.

Debbie McConnell

Debbie McConnell was one of two women on the journey. Originally from Northern Ireland, Debbie has a PhD and quickly became our resident research expert, particularly around dairy nutrition. Debbie currently works for the dairy levy board in England linking research with farmers. I’ve never met a person who gets genuinely excited about research, laboratories and extension work.

As well as the youngest member of the group, Debbie got everyone’s opinion on everything, whether she asked for it or not. Travelling with 7 other men, Debbie was resilient in dealing with us, or as she referred to ‘The Male Species’.

Definitely not a morning person, Debbie always came into fine form with her note taking, questioning, interviewing and genuine interest in gathering data and knowledge. I have to thank Debbie for bringing her ‘A’ game, a balance of intelligence and humour everyday.

Matt Abbott

I can now say I am friends with a banana farmer, Matt Abbott of Queensland, Australia. By far the most quiet and reserved traveller, Matt tested the competitors bananas at nearly every stop. As an athlete, it was tough to keep pace with fitness on the trip and I know he’ll be anxious to get back in form once home. Farming with his brother, Matt is engaged to be married to Naomi next year.

Matt was full of surprises on the trip and by far on our last night when he and his compadre Ray made a memorable video, highlighting his humour and acting skills by recreating moments of our journey.

But in all seriousness, Matt had one of the best knowledge on soil health from his business of organic banana production with a constant quest to learn more to improve his local business. What I appreciated from Matt the most, were our one on one discussions, he had a genuine interest in my opinion for his business, but offered ideas, suggestion and wanted to know more about my life and farming business at home.

Ben Edser

Ben Edser, the dark horse in my books, known for his humour and Australian abruptness, became a great travel mate. Not raised in farming, but now involved in poultry production and more specifically organic compost production near Brisbane, Australia. Ben brought his legal training to conversations and tactics of questioning. If there was manure, a by product from crop residue or wasted food he was always questioning why they weren’t getting more from their waste. 

Ben announced early in the trip, that he and his wife Steph are expecting a baby later this year, which is very exciting and definitely life changing. 

I have to say, it was Ben’s non ag approach and perpetual quest for efficiency that I appreciated in Ben, that and his booming laugh and sense of humour. 

Jess Bensemann

Jessica Bensemann, perhaps the toughest nut to crack of the group. I finally felt as though we connected through the last couple weeks of the trip. Jess works for the New Zealand government in foreign aid and international extension through agriculture. 

Like everyone, we are all searching for something in life, in this, Jess recently decided to live a healthier lifestyle. The fact that Jess travelled for over 6 weeks with us, in an environment where food and drink go hand in hand with business functions, society or even a night in the town, Jess stood true to her values. 

Jess brought a different perspective to the group, often touching on global outreach and how knowledge is transferred between experts to farmers. What I appreciate most about Jess is her sheer excitement for new things, whether it was the countryside, fresh fruit, or the Eiffel Tower.  But like many in our group will attest, she was definitely the most indecisive of the lot!

Ray Hunt

The friendliest of the scholars was by far, Ray Hunt from Ireland. A man that talked to anyone and everyone, he was most certainly the most photographed on the trip. Ray is a first generation dairy farmer who started milking cows a couple of years ago, in addition to making everything work, he also has a career with a local artificial insemination company. Ray is interested in looking a genetic trends in the dairy sector as they relate to Irish agriculture. 

What I learned the most from Ray was about putting people at ease. Whether it was his Irish humour or desire to include everyone in a conversation, Ray left no one behind. There were numerous occasions where Ray’s phone would be out, snapping random group photos and always looking for the humour in life.

Luke Mancini

Last but not least was our trip accountant, Luke Mancini from Griffith, New South Wales, Australia, a grape, olive and row crop farmer. Luke volunteered to handle our team finances which was a thankless job. He did a tremendous job of reviewing, compiling and ensuring every dollar was accounted, as if his own. 

Luke was a terrific travel mate who learned more about dairy farming than his own desire, but once we moved into crop production regions, he was in his glory. I will be particularly interested to learn about his new grain business venture in the future. 

I can’t say thank you enough to Luke and the work he did accounting for our funds and being a guy always willing to step up, drive one of the rental cars, or ensure our group was functioning efficiently, hence his assigned nick name ‘The Little General’. But don’t be fooled, the General likes to have fun too!

For me, I am the lone Canadian and perhaps the only turkey farmer my crew will meet, but for a guy that likes to work hard, have a bit of fun, I know I accomplished both. It has been a fascinating experience travelling with this group of Nuffield Scholars. As different as we all may be, we each picked up the slack when tasks needed doing. Even though we each had our strengths and personalities, when the meetings were done and the notes filed away, I can honestly say I have met a group of people who will be friends for life!  

9th and final, Clair Doan

When Nuffield Comes to Washington,Watch Out #NuffieldAg

Team India in the Ag Chambers

At the Capitol Building

Okay, so maybe we were only in Washington for a few days, but the formal agenda bombarded our brains with briefings, history and political information,  yet we managed to take in several major sites of the city, get a vibe for the area and even have conversations about US gun culture and Donald versus Hillary. 

I can’t even begin to explain US agriculture policy other than to say ‘it’s complicated’. While US government officials seek to find balance between supporting farmers through crop insurance and various margin protection schemes compared to the enormous funding of their supplemental food assistance program, more previously known as Food Stamps. 

In a country where bigger is better, extremism around consumption of goods and the confidence associated with being worldly experts on agriculture, the Farm Bill allocates a staggering $80 Billion to the food stamp program, in addition to the 35 million school aged children that participate in breakfast and lunch programs!

It’s not about malnutrition, but rather obesity and the issue of providing access to nutrious food.  In a world where we have been challenged to feed globe, I think we need to make sure we feed our neighbours first!

But understanding how decisions are forged in the US, it’s the lobby groups which demonstrated their ability to influence and suede policy makers. Although we met with two general farm lobby groups, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union, they each spoke about needs represent farmers, however specific commodity groups are sure to present on Capital Hill. 

Although only a brief meeting, Congressman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican and Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, met our group and touched on decision making processes, forming policy and how the American farmers makes their voice heard in Washington. It’s not everyday that a Congressman takes the time to meet with folks like us, however through the power of Nuffield, we wre granted this access. In addition, meeting with Honorable Michael Scuse, Acting Deputy Secretary of Agrculture at USDA provided direct access into their priorities.

Travelling with a group of largely Australian farmers, we were hosted by their embassy where they assembled representatives from Ireland, New Zealand, Australia in addition to the first Canadian I’ve seen in five weeks, Mike Hawkins, an Agriculture Canada diplomat to speak about relationships and working with the US. Being the only Canadian, I have taken the heat on our protectionist approach to dairy and poultry, so it was nice to hear other countries have their sensitive products too. At the same time it provides context of our American partners to the south, as we are 10% the size in population and economic capacity. At the embassy, it would only be with a bit of Aussie humour that the reception hall was decorated in all things Donald and Hillary in making light of the upcoming election.

Additional speakers on borrowing money through the Farm Credit system and meeting with the Farm Journal Foundation and a lecture from former Kansas Senator Chris Steineger provided perhaps the most controversial conversation of the visit.  Just because the constitution is steeped in history and written 200 years ago, does not make it right to never adapt or change a countries obsession with guns. The Senator tried to justify his point about how government should not interfere with people rights, thus the right to own firearms. Fortunately we had some Democratic balance in our terrific host, Jean Lonie with this conversation and her amazing organizational skills this week.

No visit to DC would be complete without the sites, sounds and some Washington culture. With our one free day and 30 Nuffield scholars on the loose, we hiked, biked and made our way to the White House, memorials, Arlington Cemetery and museums.  Washington was a great few days to catch up with friends old and new!

Photo Bombed by Ray Hunt, John Keely and Adam Coffey

Jean Lonie


The White House

Nuffielders on tour

John, Adam & myself

City tour on rental bikes

View of the White House

Arlington Cemetary

Raising the Flag

A Gastronomical & Agricultural Experience Collide in France #NuffieldAg

Cheese and more cheese at Rungis Market

French cuisine!

I thought we had tested our senses in India, Qatar and Turkey, but France was a true pleasure in experiencing everything that a European country has to offer. My expectation of visiting a mature agricultural economy was exceeded, not because the French often seem remiss or disconnected about farming practices, but rather tradition and history reeked in almost all aspects of food and farming life which severely contrasted our first four weeks of global travels.

To be honest, the first couple of days after we ‘extracted’ ourselves from Turkey, were a real treat to head south and taste the best of French wine, grapes and spectacular food. It also helped the fact our group known affectionately as ‘Team India’ has forged strong bonds of comradership, friendship and a passion for making the most of our global program. 

Flax harvesting

Flax processing into linen

We just scratched the surface of French agriculture, spending the majority of our formal time in the north of France in the Normandy region. Perhaps the pivotal visit of the week was learning about transforming flax into linen. The agronomical aspects of this 100 day crop, then laid out for another 40 days to allow the retting or breaking down of the cellular stalks before processing was interesting, but a key word resonated from this visit ‘romantic’. Linen production is romantic because of the way it is grown, harvest and processes that involve luck and fortune of the weather and a term used by the French, themselves.

Only in France have I ever heard that word, romantic, used in conjunction with food, fuel and fibre production. The commonality of romanticism in agriculture also relates to the idea that 70% of crops are marketed through age old cooperatives or that a desire to modernize crop production has been burdened by social aspects of farming. We heard more than once that the French have a high regard for food production and farmers, it’s just that people don’t want to see large, modern and progressive farms. It was a running joke that French farmers are not afraid to strike and protest to stand up for their perceived rights. 

Vast acres of wheat in the north if France

Laure , 2016 Nuffield France Scholar

The north, a large arable farming area with significant hectares of wheat, sugar beet, potatoes, corn, barley, canola and flax grown in the fields.  Impressive swaths of land graced the countryside with considerable field sizes and more flat than I was expecting. Unfortunately, French farmers have been plagued with excessive rainfall since early May with nearly daily rainfalls totalling more than an extra 300mm of rain to date. With barley and wheat harvest just beginning, typical yields of nearly 10t/ha are expected to be nearly halved this harvest season, not to mention the four passes of fungicide applied to the crops. 

I was taken aback by the strong cooperative structure whereby farmers may be part of separate cooperatives for cereals, sugar beets, flax, alfalfa and even equipment sharing cooperative schemes. The opportunity in group buying and selling of good theoretically gives market strength however a few farmers we met felt the cooperatives were becoming too focussed on their own viability versus filling all available markets and met the needs of average farmers and not those being more progressive. 

Charolais cattle

Nice line of equipment

Seeing the best and most innovative sectors is interesting, but I value meeting average farmers who embody the everyday life of French farmers. We met with a few farmers who seemed to farm the 200 to 350 ha of crop land, these included Michele and Catherine that also raised Charolais cattle, a breed that makes up about 20% of the French beef herd. Common discussions with them and other farmers will see their subsidy payments of close to 300€ per hectare reduce by about 50% over the next couple of years. In addition, 2016 is a year of transition outside of quota based sugar beet production to that of the open market. Having said that, impressive lines of equipment seemed to be stored away in the storage sheds for their short windows of harvest.

We were granted a full tour of the Massey Ferguson plant in Beauvais, where most large tractors are built for the Euopean market. Any French visit wouldn’t be complete without a four course lunch at Massey where Marketing Manager, Campbell Scott spoke about their commitment to agriculture and in particular youth and educational commitment.  

Rungis Market

We wrapped up our French experience the way we started, with food! A visit to the worlds largest mixed food market that sees over €9Billion of meat, poultry, fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, flowers and anything else you can eat at Rungis Market. It was an incredible site of food produced locally and internationally that is sold at this wholesale market. 

My blog would not be complete without mentioning the food we actually consumed. Wow is the only word I can use to describe the essence of a food culture as a part of almost every interaction. The fois gras, pate, baguettes, duck, beef, poultry served with wine and almost always ended by cheese is enough to make anyone into a foodie.

Nuffield France did a thoughtful job of hosting our group, including Laure Figeureu and her family that hosted an authentic French BBQ, Philppe Quignon allowing us to dig soil on his farm, Thierry de Fremont, a character in himself who escorted us for the week, Benoit Pesles current chair of Nuffield France and Romain Vacherot who visited Rungis Market with our group. A big thank you to my fellow French Nuffielders who made this leg of Global Focus Program not only memorable, but gave a fascinating perspective to European food production. 

Group shot at alfalfa drying co-op

Monet’s turkey art!

What is your food culture? #NuffieldAg

View of the Siene River

Lunch time views

I am literally sitting along side the Seine River with my half eaten lunch. You see, we were tight for time today and opted out of an extensive French, four course lunch; instead we stopped by a supermarket for a baguette. But, I made the mistake of starting to eat in front of the store to save time. To our French hosts disgust, she insisted to at least travel to the river to sit and enjoy our simple meal. 

Simple Indian cuisine, served at the sugar factory

It dawned on me, our culture is fast food! It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always McDonalds, but rather we as a nation are always eating on the run!  Think about it, how many Timmies have you drank today? Was it in your car or the perpetual pot brewing in the office? Throughout my travels, the tea and coffee has been served strong, small and always with time to enjoy.

Traditional Qatari Meal

In four weeks on the road through India, Qatar, Turkey and France we have always taken time to eat and enjoy. The food may have been simple rice and curry in India, the numerous soft drinks and water at every stop to the Turkish coffee that was served multiple times a day through our abbreviated trip to the troubled nation. You see the food and drink is equally as important as the conversation that comes with it. 

Typical French, multi course meal

In France, I think it’s all about the food, literally the four course lunches, the cheese that accompanies each meal, pastry and how could I forget about the baguettes!

When it comes to diversity of food the amount of lamb, duck and seafood I have eaten in the past few weeks out weighs these quantities in my diet over the past year.

It’s the company you keep

But it’s interesting to consider, I’ve found other nations have a closer understanding to their food, whether it’s the Halal market where people watch their lamb slaughtered. The Indian’s eat their rice, naan and largely vegetarian cuisine. The Turks enjoy fresh and simple meat and produce served on platters to enjoy in groups. Then there is the French where red wine flows with duck, pate and plates of cheese. 

So I ask myself, what is our food culture?  So next time you take an extra large double double, eat while you drive or watch television with dinner, what is your food culture?

The French love their wine!

No Place Like Home, Happy Birthday Canada #NuffieldAg

Media at Ataturk Airport

So long, farewell, until next time!

If the past three weeks have only taught me one thing, it’s that Canada is a wonderful country to call home. We have safety, security, food, land, water, respect for others and an approach to life that respects culture, as well as a legal and economic system which supports a very large middle class. 
I know Canada isn’t all roses, we’ve had our own issues with violence, we have homelessness and people on the fringes struggling through mental illness, some of you may not agree with our government leaders, and as farmers it’s always too dry, too wet, or the price is too low.

The turning point for me this week  happened in Turkey. For the first four days of our visit, having been warned about violence from family, news reports, and country experts, I was very optimistic about this country. The people we met were genuine and friendly in this country that has this odd appearance of part eastern European, part Mediterranean, but what we didn’t see is the part of the country bordering onto the Middle East! 

On Tuesday evening, three suicide bombers killed 40 people and injured 200 more in Ataturk Airport, in the same area we walked through four days earlier. Even more remarkable is that the airport reopened within hours, the blood was cleaned up and I walked back through the building 39 hours after so many lives were destroyed!     

I asked a young fellow who interpreted a meeting at a local dairy, were you shocked about the violence the day before at the airport? His response was no, he is more surprised on days where somebody isn’t killed! Given the large military, the shared borders around Syria and Iraq, frequent attacks on military gave way to many casualties never picked up by foreign media, it is that which makes me sad for Turkey. You see Turkey is a country where there is diverse culture, on the ballet to potentially join the European Union, one where they control shipping channels to Russia, where land, water and labour are still available to produce food, a place where 80 million people call home, it’s the gateway to the Middle East. 

So as I end this post about Turkey, it is a great country with so much opportunity. At no time did I feel unsafe, it’s that the attack did create uneasiness for me and others in our group and particularly those at home, so as we departed through a well secured Ataturk airport, analyzing every face I saw, it made me realize how appreciative I am of Canada! 

In the past three weeks I’ve seen congestion, massive population, and a historical class system that divides poverty and wealth in India. Qatar, a country of wealth, driven by oil, but ruled by Islamic culture and now Turkey, a land of opportunity, but tarnished by varying fractions of cultural difference. 

Oh Canada, our home and native land, 19 more days and I’ll be home. Happy 149th Canada!

Gallipoli War Memorial

Turkish Flag