So what’s the next 12 months all about?

The Nuffield idea has all come about through a niggling feeling that has developed over the last year or so, that I could be doing better and that I was missing something.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and my life, but it was time for a change.  It was time for a new adventure, but an adventure that had a proper purpose and reason (which meant I could justify it to the long suffering husband).

The day job, if you have read the introductory blog post, you will remember, is all to do with providing advice and knowledge for farmers on resource management, climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  It includes putting on events, writing blogs, talking to people and designing tools that will help translate science into practice and provide information and tools that will help farmers grow efficient businesses that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy resilience.

I’ve been running events and projects on resource management for the last six years.  My office, in the beautiful Cornish countryside, has also housed projects that have dealt with improving livestock health and welfare, grassland management and other rural skills.  We have run a lot of courses, on a huge range of subjects. The statistics are pretty impressive, over the last two years, the Rural Business School has run 1445 events, and trained over 13,000 people across the south west most of which were farmers and growers.

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The events that I run (on resource management) are always notoriously hard to get farmers to attend.  They are (nearly always) free, and we provide lunch.  There are quite often a high proportion of advisers there, rather than farmers. This differs from other events that we run that focus on livestock health, which are always well attended.

When discussing this with colleagues, the same sort of comments were always voiced, along the lines of, “that’s always the way with those types of events,” and “they will never do as well as the production focussed ones”. Which always confused me, as what we were talking about what all to do with production, managing resources surely has a place with production efficiency?  Especially in times of financial hardship where costs of production are so crucially important? It made me thing that potentially it was a communication issue, and how we were talking about these types of events.

There’s no escape

As well as running farmer events, I also have the pleasure of teaching the ‘next generation’ of farmers and growers at Duchy College and guest lecture on a couple of industry based qualifications that we run.  These students have no choice.  If they want to pass their course they have to attend my lectures (insert evil laugh).

The format of the classes that I run for our students that are based out on-farm is 4 days of teaching.  These students are all involved in managing livestock units but want to return to college to gain a qualification.  The module that I teach them is entitled Farm Environment Planning.  We have one day of introduction to the subject of environmental planning, resource management and sustainability, then do a couple of visits and then they have to focus on an area of their home business that they need to improve in terms of its sustainability credentials.  We carbon footprint their businesses, look at the pros and cons of the software, and the amount of data you need to complete the calculation.  We debate the issues and come up with solutions.

These students arrive on day 1 looking fairly mutinous about having to take four days out of farm work to listen to me waffle on about environmental stuff. However, over those four days, something amazing happens and they start to understand the link between how they manage the resources on-farm and the bottom-line.  We go and dig holes on the college farm and see what’s happening underground and compare it with what the crop looks like.  They go home and do the same.  They spend four days standing back from their own business, looking at other farms, hearing about each other’s experiences and talking about the issues. It inspires them to go home and question what (and more importantly why) they do what they do.

I ask all these students, now brimming with enthusiasm whether they would have done this module, if it hadn’t been part of their course – would they have taken the time to come along to an event on this topic? 98% of them said no, but having done the course they could see the benefit and would come on subsequent courses. The main reasons that this (albeit small) sample size gave me included:

  • Already doing environmental stuff (I’m in stewardship etc)
  • Can’t take time away from the business
  • Not interested in the subject

The same positive feedback is had at the end of our farmer events, those that attend, for the most part, have a great time and go home with some new information that they may inspire them to do something different at home.  So how do we get more farmers to attend these sort of events? How do we make them interesting for farmers to attend? How do we link these subjects more closely with what they are doing day to day on-farm? More widely, how do we develop effective methods of communication for farmers when we are talking about resource management, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions that will inspire them to engage with the subject?

This is the subject that I am going to look at over the next twelve months.  Through travelling and talking to people not just in the UK but further afield, I am aiming to look at how we effectively communicate the benefits to the farm business of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and get them interested and engaged in emissions reductions.  I am going to visit projects across the world that are trying to engage farmers in developing and showcasing low carbon farming systems, see what works, and try to understand a bit more what helps to drive behavioural change.

What am I hoping to achieve?

The ultimate aim of this, as well as being an amazing opportunity to discover more about myself, is to make sure that we are communicating the key messages about agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions, and resource use efficiency in the best way possible.  If we can do this we can inspire farmers to engage with the issues and be part of creating a resilient farming industry that will be profitable and sustainable for future generations.

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