Matt looks further afield

Farmers from around the world have met in chilly Ireland to discuss the hot topics in global agriculture. Bananas’ 2016 Nuffield Scholar Matt Abbott, from Mena Creek in North Queensland, was there and wrote this report.

What an experience. The Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC) held in Cavan, Ireland, has definitely been a positive turning point in my life.

For those who don’t know what Nuffield is, it’s an international organisation promoting excellence in agriculture. I am fortunate enough to be this year’s Nuffield Australia scholar for the banana industry.

My year of study began with the Cavan CSC in March. I’ll be sharing information from my studies with others in the banana industry and this is my first report. At the CSC, there were more than 70 Nuffield scholars, including others from Australia, and from Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States. There were also delegates from China, Japan, Zambia, India and Ethiopia.

Our topics

World-class guest speakers addressed a broad range of topics starting with a general overview of Irish agriculture and the local dairy and beef industries and extending through to global farming issues.

There was information on politics and policy making, sustainability, carbon footprints, genetics, innovation – what lies ahead, feeding the world’s growing population, profitability, branding, culture and food waste.

Leadership and personal and professional development topics included developing women in agriculture, building capacity and capability in people, finance, education and farmers/ consumers and personal development.

The conference had a new theme each day, eight in total – Humility, Integrity, Diversity, Reciprocity, Respectful, Open Minded, Pass the Torch and Continuous Learning Mindset.

Together, these themes, topics and world-class speakers, plus the high level of knowledge and diversity in the room, set the scene for eight days of intense learning.

Big thanks

I would like to congratulate Nuffield and all the people involved in running such a high-level conference.

Jim Geltch, who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nuffield International and was formerly the CEO at Nuffield Australia, and the Nuffield organisation form an impressive unit unlike anything I’ve been involved with before.

The culture that has been developed and the sincerity of all the people involved in the Nuffield family is truly humbling.

The conference facilitators, Jean and Sally, really enabled us to get the most from the opportunity. Nuffield Ireland Chair Bill O’Keefe, the chair of the CSC Alo Mohan and organiser Catherine Fox deserve a big thanks.

The people of Ireland, and really everyone else that we crossed paths with, have left a very lasting impression on me. They could not do enough to help and their food and hospitality has set a new level of excellence. In general, they are all really nice people and I hope that I get a chance to return the favour one day.

I would also like to thank Horticulture Innovation Australia and the banana industry for the chance to go on this journey.

Global competition

The program of events included visits to different industries around Cavan, located north west of Dublin, near the border with Northern Ireland. Irish agriculture seems to have a bright future.

One difference to our banana industry is they have to compete on the world market. Around 90 per cent of their beef and milk products are exported. It was very interesting to see their strategies for this and how they compete with the other countries.

The first visit was to beef processor AIBP. This facility was impressive. Animal welfare is high on their agenda and it definitely showed with the layout of the plant and handling of the animals.

Something we saw across both dairy and beef was that all the runoff of manure was collected and stored. This is all spread back onto there pastures. They have standards in place for application rates and timing.

Talking profitability

We also went to Ballyhaise Agricultural College and looked at education services for farmers.

There are 1000 farmers attending classes and small discussion-groups where they put the learning into practice. Everyone works together sharing techniques and evaluating and measuring their outcomes.

Farmers attending the discussion groups had close to a 10 per cent increase in profitability compared to those who did not participate.

I was really impressed with the high level of importance they put on being environmentally sustainable together with the quality of their produce and selling that story. Also, it was clear that when you can link research all the way through to adoption, there are benefits for everyone.


We also visited the Country Crest business and were able to look at all their operations. They produce beef, onions, potatoes and ready-made meals. Two brothers started the business about 50 years ago. Last year the business grew by 60 per cent.

The beef is finished in a feed lot that was so well kept I would be happy to live there! Along with growing onions and potatoes, they have a big packing facility where they pack for other growers.

The ready-made meals part of the business is growing at a rapid rate. They are in the process of building a new stateof-the-art $10 million plant. They supply good quality meals to supermarkets all around.

These guys are a really good example of adding value and the whole “farm-to-fork” idea.

Warming up!

After that we visited Keelings who grow peppers and soft fruit in greenhouses. These guys are big. With more than 400 acres of greenhouse operating they grow a lot of gear.

It was really cold for the 12 days we were overseas so it was a highlight for me going into the warm houses, it felt like home. It was rather funny to see how uncomfortable all the non-Australians were with a bit of heat.

As an example of what can be achieved in greenhouse facilities, one strawberry and capsicum house we went into had a yield-per-hectare of up to four times higher than that of conventional growing practices.

Production labour requirements are a lot lower with the ability to control the height at which the plant hangs and where it grows. The only downside to this way of farming is the amount of investment required to start up.

Battlefield tour

The last part of the trip was a two-day tour of the battlefields in France and Belgium.

This was a very sobering experience. It really floors you when you see first-hand the number of people who died in battle on both sides. Our guide, Alan, did a very good job of giving us a feel of just what it would have been like to have been out there.

At the cemeteries we visited there were wall after wall listing the names of the thousands of soldiers missing in action.

On the Saturday night before we came home we were able to attend a very special ceremony in Belgium. Every night at the Menin Gate the last post is played and wreaths are laid in commemoration. Our group had the honour of laying a wreath and it was a quite moving thing to be a part of.

Hearing the last post and taking in all that we had seen really does put things in perspective and was a very powerful way to conclude our trip.

CSC farming facts – the challenge for us all

Global growth
  • the global population is now growing by five million each month • it will be 9 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100
Feeding the world
  • 800 million people are hungry around the world
  • one-third of world food production is wasted due to lack of knowledge and improper handling, transport and storage
  • 1.4 billion people are overweight with one-third of them obese
  • every 20 years, the number of people depending on a farmer doubles
  • by 2050 the demand for food will have grown by 60 per cent
  • the amount of food needed to be produced up until 2050 is more than we have produced in the world to date
Around the globe
  • Japan has 2.2million farmers and 70 per cent of them are between 60 and 70 years old
  • Ethiopia has less than one per cent of its agriculture mechanised and 15 per cent is irrigated
  • China and India have 40 per cent of the world’s population on 20 per cent of the world’s arable land with 10 per cent of the earth’s water
  • agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water
  • one-third of the world’s surface is covered by grass
  • agriculture is responsible for 26 per cent of total global emissions
  • 65 per cent of that is from livestock
  • the demand for water will increase by 30 per cent by 2050
  • by 2025 there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet
  • that’s seven devices per person
  • you need a two-to-three year payback on product innovation
Take home messages
  • No Farmer No Food No Future
  • don’t fall in love with your product, fall in love with what it does 
  • target something you know there is a market for 
  • do something better/different
  • if it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you
  • have respect – for the environment, others and yourself
  • understand your customer
  • the biggest challenge to growth is developing your people.