Seven of Victoria's leading young primary producers have tonight been awarded prestigious Nuffield Farming Scholarships for 2020.
Announced at the Nuffield National Conference Awards Dinner in Brisbane, the 2020 Scholars will each receive a $30,000 bursary to travel the world conducting innovative research into their chosen study topics.
The 2020 Nuffield Scholars from Victoria are:
- Andrew Ham, Windermere - supported by the William Buckland Foundation, will research ways to increase agricultural efficiencies through alternative renewable energy sources and better utilisation of agricultural waste products.
- Catherine Velisha, Werribee - supported by Hort Innovation, will undertake research into how horticultural family businesses can build and harness the skills they need to be competitive in the marketplace.
- Dustin Pascoe, Raywood - supported by the Grains Research Development Corporation, will research the benefits of grazing crops to fill the winter feed gap in a changing climate.
- Harry Kelly, Caramut - supported by Rabobank Australia, will research ways for the Australian agriculture industry to multiply profitable business models, retain the right people and embrace change to become a more attractive investment.
- Jason Cotter, Tuerong - supported by the William Buckland Foundation, will research ways to restore flavour, nutrition and sustainability as key drivers in grain production systems.
- Johnny Gardner, Cavendish - supported by the William Buckland Foundation, will research sheep management, price incentives, market access and environmental changes across the supply chain.
- Mitchell Henderson, Berriwillock - supported by the Grains Research Development Corporation, will use his scholarship to research alternative fertiliser and weed control measures for grain producers.
Nuffield's Victorian State Committee chairman and 2013 Nuffield Scholar Matthew Ipsen said the strong representation from Victoria in the 2020 cohort reflected the tenacity and forward-looking qualities of the state's agricultural sector.
"Victorian agriculture has a proud history of innovation in primary production, and we are excited to announce our 2020 Scholars, a group which show great potential to push the boundaries and explore new opportunities in farming," Mr Ipsen said.
"This year's scholars will research a range of topics, from alternative energy sources and waste utilisation, to the benefits of grazing crops to fill the winter feed gap, and the restoration of flavour, nutrition and sustainability as key drivers in grain production systems.
"Scholars will also investigate how family farming businesses can harness the skills they need to remain competitive, retain the right people and bolster farm revenue, all in the face of a changing market and climate.
"With the generous support of their investors, these seven inspiring Scholars are about to start the journey of a lifetime as they travel the world researching some of the biggest issues facing Australia's agricultural industry."
The National Conference is Nuffield Australia's flagship event, providing a meeting point for Australian farmers and agricultural innovators to share their latest research findings with industry and to network with the broader agribusiness supply chain.
Meet the scholars
Supported by the William Buckland Foundation, Mr Ham of Windermere receives a Nuffield Scholarship to research ways to increase agricultural efficiencies through alternative renewable energy sources and better utilisation of agricultural waste products.
Mr Ham works alongside his parents in the family's diversified farming operation which encompasses oilseed crushing and refining, mixed cropping, lamb and pig production.
With the majority of his time invested in the oilseed processing and refining side of the business, Mr Ham oversees the management of 25,000 tonnes of grain storage, the crushing of a variety of oilseeds, and project manages the implementation of new technologies for the business.
As an oilseed processor, Mr Ham recognises the business' reliance on primary energy sources like coal powered electricity and natural gas, and intends to use his Nuffield Scholarship to explore alternative energy sources and the benefits their use can unlock for agricultural enterprises.
"Facing some of the highest energy and labour costs globally, in addition to increasing consumer pressure to farm in a socially and environmentally sympathetic way, we need to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources," Mr Ham said.
"By using excess waste and other secondary resources, we have an opportunity to decrease our reliance on non-renewable energy, which will in turn reduce our carbon footprint, bring running costs down and add economic, social and environmental value to our farming businesses."
Mr Ham will travel across Europe, Morocco, Israel, Sweden and Japan. He will explore alternative supply, storage and usage methods of different agricultural waste products and how closed loop systems can drive sustainable productivity and profitability for the agricultural sector.
From Werribee, Ms Velisha, receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from Hort Innovation to undertake research into how horticultural family businesses can build and harness the skills they need to be competitive in the marketplace.
Ms Velisha recently took ownership of her family's 153-hectare integrated horticulture business, comprising three properties at Tatura, Caldermeade and Werribee South. Across these farms, she grows, supplies and markets cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, spring onions, kale and a variety of herbs into both wholesale markets and supermarkets.
Recognising the challenges faced by family farms in the horticultural sector, Ms Velisha's study will focus on the opportunities and strengths unique to the family farm business model, and how to better leverage these to obtain and retain a competitive advantage.
"With the majority of Australian farming businesses being family owned and operated, it's paramount these businesses can be sustainable and grow into the future," Ms Velisha said.
"I'm keen to identify and evaluate the external factors influencing the performance of family horticulture businesses, and ultimately develop a 'tool box' to help family businesses stay competitive in our industry."
Travelling to the United Kingdom, United States, Europe and China, Ms Velisha intends to explore the structures and strategies that enable family businesses to thrive in these advanced and competitive markets and bring those lessons home.
From Raywood, Mr Pascoe receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to research the benefits of grazing crops to fill the winter feed gap in a changing climate.
Running a 1450 self-replacing Merino ewe flock and growing cereals, hay and oilseeds across his 1578-hectare farm, Mr Pascoe has been grazing roughly half of his cereal crops to both fill the winter feed shortage and split his exposure to frost risk.
"Realising that the changing climate is impacting the reliability and amount of winter feed available, I want to further research the benefits and disadvantages of grazing crops," Mr Pascoe said.
"Grazing crops can allow more stock to be carried through winter, while freeing up grazing pressure on pasture paddocks and staggering exposure to frost risk by delaying growth stages of the grazed crops."
Having conducted trials for the past four years on his own farm, Mr Pascoe has observed improved animal health and better pasture paddock performance, as well as reduced labour input through avoidance of supplementary feeding.
He aims to use his Nuffield Scholarship to gather data from around the world and further quantify the pros and cons of grazing crops, and the impact it can have to a farm business's bottom line.
From Caramut, Mr Kelly receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from Rabobank Australia. He will research ways for the Australian agriculture industry to multiply profitable business models, retain the right people and embrace change to become a more attractive investment.
Mr Kelly runs a diversified Angus beef, prime lamb and Merino and cross-bred wool business across his 1200-hectare farm in Victoria's south west.
Since his full-time involvement in 2014, on-farm expansion projects have seen the business grow to turn off Angus weaners into both the feeder and Asian live export markets, prime lambs, and broadacre wheat, canola and beans.
Passionate about how primary producers can embrace change over the coming generation, Mr Kelly intends to use his Nuffield Scholarship to research ways to secure a stronger, more sustainable future for Australian agriculture.
"I see key challenges and opportunities for the sector over the next generation, as attracting good financial and human capital becomes more competitive," he said.
"If we are unable to keep pace with other industries and compete for investment, then the industry is at risk of stagnation. I want to unearth pathways to growth for farming businesses by positively embracing change and capitalising on the opportunities it can bring through diversification of the primary production portfolio."
Exploring and comparing different investment and funding models for agricultural enterprises, from the state-owned to free market enterprise, Mr Kelly will travel throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
From Tuerong, Mr Cotter receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from the William Buckland Foundation to research ways to restore flavour, nutrition and sustainability as key drivers in grain production systems.
As the owner and operator of Tuerong Farm, a 60-hectare mixed farming enterprise on the Mornington Peninsula, Mr Cotter grows and mills heritage, ancient and modern grains for direct sale and distribution to leading restaurants, bakeries and home-bakers.
"I am passionate about cultivars and practices that prioritise flavour, nutrition and sustainability over convenience. Internationally, there is a burgeoning movement which has provenance, food sovereignty, sustainability and flavour at its core, and I believe we have an opportunity to further this at home," Mr Cotter said.
"My research will explore methods of achieving quality grain in low input and organic farming systems, propagation and processing techniques that prioritise flavour, establishment of population, and winter wheats with greater climate resilience, and restoration of direct farmer, miller, baker and breeder relationships."
Travelling throughout Europe, the United States, Mexico, Canada and Turkey, Mr Cotter aims to use his research to establish common threads between his peri-urban business and broadacre cropping operations, unlocking the benefits of genetic diversity and bolstered consumer trust.
From Cavendish Mr Gardner receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from the William Buckland Foundation to research sheep and goat animal management, price incentives, market access and environmental changes across the supply chain.
Managing his family's 1720-hectare farm in south west Victoria, Mr Gardner runs a 12,000 head self-replacing Coopworth composite ewe flock. The business primarily produces lamb, turning off up to 12,000 lambs each year and selling around 240 bales of 28-micron wool.
With a large proportion of Australian sheep and goat meat exported overseas, Mr Gardner will use his Nuffield Scholarship to research ways to future-proof these markets through a more in-depth understanding of consumers and environmental constraints on the industry.
"I want to explore what drives our largest consumers, including the impacts of animal management on eating quality, industry efforts to reduce emissions, aligning price incentives with consumer demands, and ensuring a diversity of market access for Australian producers," Mr Gardner said.
"It is an exciting time in the red meat sector, with major focus and investment on everything from objective carcass measurement technology to environmental sustainability, through initiatives like the red meat sector's Carbon Neutral 2030 target.
"I believe there is an immense opportunity to learn from other red meat producing countries and from sectors beyond agriculture, and contribute to a more robust measurement and benchmarking process for industry to strengthen its quality and sustainability credentials."
Travelling throughout North and South America, China, the Middle East and Europe, Mr Gardner will have the opportunity to observe key export market trends firsthand.
From Berriwillock, Mr Henderson receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Mr Henderson will use his scholarship to research alternative fertiliser and weed control measures for grain producers. Managing his family's 8000-hectare broadacre cropping business, Mr Henderson produces wheat, barley, lentils, field peas and oaten hay, while another part of the family business supplies 1.5 million free range birdsto Hazeldene's Chicken.
Recognising the double benefits his business receives by using the phosphorus-rich chicken manure as fertiliser and the potential to feed chickens their own grain, eliminating freight costs, Mr Henderson believes there is an opportunity for Australian growers to get more for their grain.
"The current cost of grain production in Australia is US$169 per tonne, while in Russia and Ukraine it is US$120 per tonne. As an industry, we need to find ways to raise the value of our produce and I want to investigate diversification and integration as pathways to achieving this," Mr Henderson said.
"If we can use our grain closer to where it is produced, for example, by on-site milling for chicken or other stock feed, then we can limit freight costs and obtain natural fertiliser benefits from manure, as well as obviously minimising business risk through enterprise diversification."
Mr Henderson will visit the United States, Canada and Brazil to explore their large-scale cropping and feed mill industries, as well as Europe and Ireland to understand the role strict environmental regulation plays in food production systems.
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