Somewhere over the Atlantic…..
I always knew I’d go to the USA one day. But being from Australia I never imagined flying in over the east coast, from London to Washington DC. One financial and political capital to another. But such are the experiences thrown up by Nuffield. Previous scholars have called this ‘Agricultures Golden Ticket’, in a reference to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory and I can see why.
What a privilege it is to travel the world and get a look into the cream of the crop. The best of global agriculture. I’m barely a week into our Global Focus Program, our whirlwind tour around the world and we’ve only seen two countries so far. France for our Contemporary Scholars Conference (see previous blogs) and we’ve spent the past few days in Somerset County in England’s South-West.
This was everything I expected of England and yet not at all.
What I expected:
- Rolling green hills and ountry roads.
- Really small farms.
- Miserable late winter weather.
- CAP payments and subsidies leading to poorly run farms.
Scenery These things were all there to an extent. The neat hedges and stone walls marking paddock boundaries were just like you’d imagine and the green hills were a pleasant change of background colour for this grain farmer who hasn’t seen a non irrigated green paddock in six months. Telling the locals this was met with a bit of surprise. ‘It’s not green yet.’ They told me.
Scale Compared to Aussie standards and scales of course English farms are small. But as I kept saying to the European guys who asked me how much we crop, it’s not hectares that count. It’s returns per hectare. Their farms haven’t grown like ours have in Australia. Yes, partly because of government support but also because they’re much more productive than ours are at home. Their 10Ha wheat crops would’ve been producing as much as some of our 100Ha paddocks last year.
Weather Apparently we struck it lucky and had only one rainy and really cold day for the week. It’s also what makes them productive. Such a stable climate. They don’t have 20-30 degree daily temperature variations to deal with or the climate variability we have.
Farm Efficiency It’s hard to make a judgement on this one. I suspect we saw a very biased sample of some of the best performing farm businesses in that part of the world. Two of the most outstanding ones we saw were Yeo Valley & Thatchers Cider. One major takeaway from this part of the world is that the only people making money from farming in this part of the world are the really intensive farms. Eg. Dairy or chicken broilers. Either that or they’re going further up the supply chain and are processing their own product. Turning apples into cider or milk into cheese. Government intervention in farming through CAP and other regulations (tax incentives to own farm land!) and a growing population has divorced land prices completely from their productive capacity. So to stay in business it’s intensify or go up the supply chain.
In Australia us dry-land farmers are basically constrained by environmental conditions (read: rainfall!) and so have to go for scale over intensification.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway was that passionate people will be successful regardless of the obstacles put in front of them. They’ll work with or around the system as need be. They’re not motivated solely by money, but they understand its importance. They enjoy what they do and so want to do more of it and to do it better.