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.
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 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 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.
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, 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.
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!
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.
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