My Nuffield Journey And Beyond

Nuffield Farming Scholar Andy Howard reflects on his Nuffield Scholarship and what it has enabled him to achieve since…

There were two key moments that got my Nuffield journey to the starting point. The first was sitting in a car with my friend and local farmer Tom Sewell, who was at that time in the midst of his Nuffield travels. Listening to him talk about his visits to foreign climes and inspirational farmers certainly got me interested in the idea of a Nuffield Scholarship. The second moment was going to a meeting and listening to this crazy French farmer, Frederic Thomas, talk about planting more than one crop species in a field at the same time, at that moment I knew I had a subject to study as well as the will.

The next stage was applying and going for my interview. I admit I have a supportive family at home and at work, which really helped, but many people say to me “I’d love to do a scholarship but just don’t have the time” or another excuse. My situation was that two days before my interview my second child was born and he ended up coming to the first Nuffield conference I went to at the age six weeks, so if I had enough time then most others will! The Nuffield staff are very helpful and flexible and will do their best to accommodate your situation. After the conference, the next stage was to plan and organise my twelve weeks of travel. That involved a lot of Googling, map staring and logistics. I ended up visiting 82 farmers and researchers in 10 different countries. 

This involved a maximum of four weeks away at one time, which was difficult with a young family but there really is not anything better than getting away completely from the farm and immersing yourself in a study tour. It opens your mind to what could be possible to achieve at home on our farm but just as importantly, you realise that wherever you are farming in the world there is no-one who has perfected their system. This was a very important realisation for me and took pressure off me mentally, as you can convince yourself that the people who author books on your subject know it all and have immaculate farms. This I can tell you is not the case! Though the travelling and meeting of new farmers was an amazing experience, but it really is only the start. There are too many highlights to mention here, but you can visit my blog at the QR code below for more detail about my journey.

That section of my Nuffield Journey was only 18 months out of the total of a seven-year journey. More has changed in my life since I finished than did during my travels. You are told before you embark on a Nuffield Scholarship that it opens many doors, and this certainly has been true for me. One of the immediate changes was the amount of public speaking I have done since. Before my scholarship I would struggle to speak for more than 20 minutes at a farmers meeting, they now have to kick me off after 90 minutes. In the last 5-6 years I have spoken to over 100 different groups in different countries around Europe, something that would have been unimaginable before.

On the farm there too have been many changes. I realised from visiting many inspiring farmers that many of the artificial inputs we use are unnecessary. This led me to reduce our inputs by 10% every year for the last five years. This has not only made the farm more profitable recently but also made farming more exciting. We have changed from a boring, predictable synthetic input system to a knowledge intensive, flexible system that is constantly changing and evolving. The scholarship inspired me to change my drill so that it can cope with intercropping and plant different plant species at the same time. I have also built, with my father, a bespoke intercrop separator from many second-hand components (Image 3), so we can now separate the intercrops we grow on the farm.

Even before my scholarship, I had started to do on-farm trials by myself to investigate whether new ideas would work on our farm. This has accelerated exponentially since finishing my scholarship. People have wanted to collaborate with me on trials on farm and this has added some professionality and scientific rigour to the process. We have worked with PGRO, Innovative Farmers, Diversify Project and Southern Water, and the information coming from these trials has been invaluable to our business. In the last couple of years this too has led to me being involved with an Innovate UK funded project called “N2 Vision” ( N₂Vision – Automated Robotic Nitrogen Diagnosis of Arable Soil (wordpress. com) ) The project is investigating how AI, Deep Learning and Robotics can apply nitrogen fertilisers extremely precisely to arable crops.

There are hopefully more projects in the pipeline that we are going to be involved in which all stems from being a Nuffield Scholar. It is an exciting time to be involved in the cutting edge of agriculture. From becoming more well known since my scholarship and doing many public speaking events, my email inbox started to become regularly filled with requests for information and ideas. Firstly, this is very flattering that people think you are an “expert” in your field (most of the time I feel like a novice) but can also become time consuming. After a while I realised that this interest could be monetised and so I contacted a fellow Nuffield Scholar Stephen Briggs about joining Abacus Agriculture ( Abacus Agriculture Consultants – ) and so started my career as a consultant, again something unimaginable before Nuffield.

The changes to the way we have farmed since 2015 have also changed the crops we grow and opened doors to different markets for what we grow on farm. We now grow crops for Hodmedods (Hodmedod’s British Pulses and Grains []), who are an amazing company that promote and sell British grains and believe in a fair share of the benefits to the whole supply chain. They have been a breath of fresh air to work with as they are not trying to grind you down to the minimum price or try to put as many quality claims onto the farmer that they think they can get away with. A real vision of how the food system should work!!

The biggest benefit from my scholarship has been the network of friends I have made around the world. If I have any issues on the farm, I know someone will be able to help. Also, the numbers of visitors to the farm (pre-covid) meant we had regular visitors from around the globe that always kept life interesting and continued the learning experience. So, if the story above has not interested you in a Nuffield scholarship, then it may not for you. However, if your interest has been piqued, then go out and speak to scholars and just apply! What is the worst that could happen?

Applications for 2023 Nuffield Farming Scholarships are now open until 31 July 2022. To learn more and access the online application system, please visit