Seven of NSW'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 NSW are:
- Bernie Byrnes, Gunning - supported by Westpac Agribusiness, will investigate the current opportunities and risks associated with purchasing farmland, seeking to identify trends relating to agricultural land values and lease rates.
- Billy Browning, Narromine - supported by the Australian Department of Agriculture and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, will investigate the value adding of irrigation water and increased utilisation of low-flow water.
- James Alexander, Boorowa - supported by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, will research how mixed farming businesses can solve common land management issues, such as reduced ground cover and soil health.
- Jarrod Amery, Forbes - supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, will research what it takes to build and maintain a successful farm business and achieve a sustainable Return on Assets Managed (ROAM).
- Luke Cantrill, Nashdale - supported by Woolworths, will research drivers of success in overseas horticulture and viticulture businesses, international production systems, export opportunities and the cold chain.
- Richard Quigley, Trangie - supported by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and Cotton Australia, will investigate cropping systems and methods to retain more crop residue in zero-tillage farming systems.
- Tom Hooke, Wanganella - supported by Australian Wool Innovation, will research innovative regenerative agriculture principles to apply to Australian pastoral sheep enterprises.
Nuffield's NSW State Committee chairman, and 2015 Scholar, Andrew Freeth congratulated the seven Scholars on their achievement, and their collective vision to create a more adaptable and innovative agricultural sector in NSW.
"The NSW agricultural sector has a very positive story to tell, and I'm excited to see our state represented so well in the cohort of 2020 Nuffield Scholars, an outcome reflective of the NSW producers' ability to evolve and excel," Mr Freeth said.
"Given the tough seasonal conditions across the state, it's inspiring to see study topics so focused on resilience and sustainability. In particular, the need to responsibly manage the land and ensure best use of our precious natural resources.
"Equally important is the research focus on boosting productivity through new cropping methods, generating stronger data on land values, accessing new markets and product lines, and better understanding the common threads of success for young producers.
"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
From Gunning, Mr Byrnes receives a Nuffield Scholarship from Westpac Agribusiness. He will investigate the current opportunities and risks associated with purchasing farmland, seeking to identify trends relating to agricultural land values and lease rates.
A young owner-operator with plans to expand his farm business, Bernie currently manages a self-replacing Merino flock of 1200 ewes, producing up to 400 crossbred lambs and 50 bales of superfine Merino wool a year, on his property in NSW's Southern Tablelands.
Despite recent adverse seasonal conditions, Mr Byrnes believes the value of Australian agricultural land continues to grow, and sees an unprecedented opportunity to examine this appreciation in farmland to bolster the decision-making process for primary producers.
"Purchasing land is often the biggest financial decision a farmer will make. While Australian farmland values continue to rise, often outstripping operational returns, farmers need to have access to better, more reliable market data to inform their purchasing decisions," Mr Byrnes said.
"My global study program will assess different perspectives and trends on agricultural land values at a local, regional and international level, to help farmers consider the best allocation of their capital to purchase or lease land, as well as the risks and rewards."
Mr Byrnes will predominantly travel to North America's Midwest, which experiences some of the largest and most liquid farm sales globally, as well as Canada, which has a comparable operating environment to Australia.
From Narromine Mr Browning receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from the Australian Department of Agriculture and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
He will investigate the value adding of irrigation water and increased utilisation of low-flow water. Having previously worked in the financial and agribusiness sector, Mr Browning now operates a 3500-hectare mixed cropping operation with his family, producing a combination of wheat, barley, canola and chickpeas, as well as cotton and other opportunity crops when water permits.
Faced with the growing issue around reduced water reliability and a drive for return on assets managed, Mr Browning sees a real opportunity to investigate alternative irrigation options and multiple uses from a single water source.
"Water is a highly topical issue within the agricultural sector at the moment. In particular, the cotton industry is facing a significant water reliability issue, which is driving all farmers to be more resourceful with what little water they have," Mr Browning said.
"The aim of my research is to open up alternatives that enable farmers to best utilise the valuable resource of water, in the most sustainable and productive way. It will also look to investigate renewable solutions, such as solar pumps or battery storage for bore and river water."
Mr Browning will visit Brazil, Europe and the United States to see how farmers there are addressing similar issues, as well as research and consult with leading irrigated growers here in Australia.
From Boorowa, Mr Alexander receives a Nuffield Scholarship supported by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
He will research how mixed farming businesses can solve common land management issues, such as reduced ground cover and soil health.
Having worked as an agronomist for several years, Mr Alexander is currently employed on a large scale, organic and biodynamic grazing property in southern NSW. Additionally, his family runs a nearby composite ram breeding stud and commercial prime lamb operation at Cootamundra.
"I believe Australia can be a leader in sustainable agriculture. In particular, my scholarship will seek to build on the philosophies of regenerative agriculture, and to identify practical solutions across a wide range of industry challenges," Mr Alexander said.
"My research aims to unearth potential ways that regenerative approaches could lead to greater landscape functionality, improved social wellbeing of farmers, and increased profitability of farm businesses.
"Importantly, my research has potential to be applicable across the wider agricultural sector, and align with a growing interest to invest in initiatives that contribute to the sustainability of our soils, our farms, and our futures."
Mr Alexander plans to visit the United Kingdom and the United States to attend regenerative agriculture industry events, as well as visit key farms in Argentina, Spain, France and Italy, which are practising key principles of regenerative agriculture and building greater pasture diversity.
From Forbes, Mr Amery receives a Nuffield Scholarship supported by the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC). He will research what it takes to build and maintain a successful farm business and achieve a sustainable Return on Assets Managed (ROAM).
As owner of Amery Ag, an innovative 2300-hectare farming operation in Central West, Mr Amery produces wheat, canola and barley, and manages around 4000 ewes as part of the business' annual livestock trading program.
"We strive to make every hectare work; earning the right to expand our business. As a young farmer myself, and with a quarter of the agricultural workforce between 18 to 35, there is a need to equip our future farmers with the tools to grow their businesses and the industry as a whole," Mr Amery said.
"On my study program, I plan to visit leading farm businesses around the world, to understand the common threads of success, including how to achieve a sustainable work/life balance, pathways to expansion and diversification, as well as how to encourage new entrants into farming."
Travelling throughout major agricultural producing countries, including China and the United States, Mr Amery plans to share his findings with peers, to help build a culture within Australian farming that promotes entrepreneurship and knowledge sharing.
From Nashdale, Mr Cantrill receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from Woolworths to research drivers of success in overseas horticulture and viticulture businesses, international production systems, export opportunities and the cold chain.
Based near Orange, Mr Cantrill currently grows fresh, organic cherries across two orchards with over 8000 cherry trees. Supplying produce to local markets and supermarkets, Mr Cantrill is keen to evolve the exporting side of his business and the cherry industry as a whole.
"Like many growers, we are challenged by high volumes and low demand in the domestic market. Using my Nuffield Scholarship, I want to bring back lessons from successful and profitable overseas enterprises and identify new market opportunities for our industry," Mr Cantrill said.
"By exploring international cherry varietals and cold chain infrastructure, I hope to get a better understanding of where the market is heading and anticipate what might be coming to market in the short term.
"I also see emerging 'second tier' markets in China, in places like Sheyang, Xi'an and Quhan, as holding great potential for Australian growers, and want to evaluate access pathways and opportunities in these markets."
Mr Cantrill will travel throughout Canada, the United States, Chile, China and New Zealand on his Nuffield research, gathering insights into emerging trends, markets and technologies important to the growth of the Australian horticulture industry.
From Trangie, Mr Quigley receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and Cotton Australia. Mr Quigley will investigate cropping systems and methods to retain more crop residue in zero-tillage farming systems.
With his family, Mr Quigley manages their mixed farming enterprise consisting of sprinkler and furrow irrigated crops (predominantly cotton), dryland wheat, barley, chickpeas, canola, and opportunity dryland cotton, as well as a grazing operation focused on breeding and finishing sheep and cattle.
With the wide adoption of zero-tillage farming, Mr Quigley will look at enhancing the method by retaining more crop residue above ground. He believes this will increase infiltration rates and the ability to store moisture, as well as limit erosion and the rate of water evaporation.
"As farmers in marginal cropping areas, we usually find moisture to be our most limiting factor. If we can utilise techniques that help us preserve more moisture, it could produce a range of benefits, from increased productivity, soil health, yields and reduced weed pressures," Mr Quigley said.
"The outcomes of the research could provide increased planting opportunities within, and outside, traditional planting windows, opening up potential to grow different crop types in marginal environments, including increasing the viability of rain-grown and semi-irrigated cotton production."
Mr Quigley plans to visit well-established cotton and grain production areas like Brazil, United States Canada, and England, where growers are using a range of methods and technologies that may be applicable in Australia.
From Wanganella, Mr Hooke receives a Nuffield Scholarship with support from Australian Wool Innovation (AWI). Mr Hooke will use his scholarship to research innovative regenerative agriculture principles to apply to Australian pastoral sheep enterprises.
Mr Hooke, together with his brother Marcus, run the family's 25,000-hectare property comprising 9000 commercial Merino ewes, 1000 stud Merino ewes and 200 Angus cows across predominantly open pastoral country in the western Riverina region.
As someone passionate about a holistic approach to farming, Mr Hooke is keen to further extend the principles of rotational grazing to sheep enterprises in pastoral zones, which largely rely on very low input systems and minimal chemical intervention.
"Improved grazing management practices present a major opportunity for sheep producers in these pastoral zones, and my research seeks to unearth leading examples from around the world that can further strengthen our industry's sustainability efforts," Mr Hooke said.
"With the recent drought highlighting the difference in production outcomes from land that is well managed, there has never been a more important time for sheep producers to explore sustainable methods to manage risks in the midst of climatic variability."
Mr Hooke will visit Africa, as well as North and South America, to identify long-term production benefits of rotational grazing in the rangelands and regenerative agriculture, with an aim to pass this knowledge on to peers across the sheep production industry and the wider agricultural sector.
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