Nuffield Scholars

The Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust announced their newest cohort of Scholars in October, many of whom will study topics related to soil management, sustainability, and regenerative farming practices.

“This year’s intake represents a significant change in direction that British agriculture is and must take to ensure a sustainable farming future,” says Mike Vacher, Nuffield Farming Director. “Many of our 2022 scholar’s topics are centred around reducing inputs, regenerative principles, improving efficiency, and mitigating climate change in order to help achieve Net Zero.” “The future of agriculture needs forward-thinking and innovative leaders. This year’s scholars have been selected for demonstrating these traits and the clear passion they possess for their chosen topic.”

Six of the 2022 Nuffield Farming Scholars share their backgrounds with Direct Driller and elaborate on their plans for their scholarship journeys…

Arable Farmer, H Sutton & Son North Yorkshire

I am a third-generation farmer working on the family farm near Filey, North Yorkshire. We grow a diverse range of cash crops over an area of around 450ha, with 200ha of this being potatoes on largely rented land. Since returning home to the farm, I have been interested in regenerative agriculture. We are currently transitioning from a min-till to a no-till, regenerative combinable system, however doing so with potatoes poses a very unique challenge. During the past season, we have seen increased yields in our reduced cultivations trial, as well as decreasing the frequency of passes to apply fungicide through a focus on nutrition. All positive signs, but we have a long way to go…

My Nuffield Farming Scholarship, sponsored by the Alan & Anne Beckett Award, will focus on exploring how maincrop potatoes can be grown in a regenerative system. I believe this is an incredibly pressing question in a world which has a growing demand for both potatoes and crops being grown in a manner less detrimental to both soil health and the wider environment.

To investigate this, I plan to travel extensively throughout North America, Europe and the UK visiting potato growers, past Nuffield scholars and pioneers of the regen ag world. By visiting these countries, I aim to learn about different establishment methods and the cultivations (or lack of) that were used. This could go a long way toward removing the deep tillage that is widely used in the sector, yet detrimental to soil structure.

We have found that by acting as an armour over the winter, cover crops enable us to cultivate less and reduce the amount of compaction faced in Spring. I believe there is huge potential in using cover crops before, or perhaps alongside, potatoes and would like to better understand how they can mitigate the damage done by the establishment and harvesting process. I will also be looking to gain a deeper understanding of how farmers are reducing reliance on artificial fertilisers and pesticides with a nutrition-first policy. I look forward to sharing my future findings with you!

Commercial Development Manager, Future Biogas Ltd Yorkshire

Bioenergy crops divide opinions especially within the agricultural community, however, is this stopping businesses from looking at the potential opportunity for their farm business? I plan to address this in my Nuffield Farming Scholarship ‘Bioenergy crops: An opportunity to address the Triple Bottom Line’, which is sponsored by the John Oldacre Foundation.  

My career so far has focused on the agricultural industry, primarily in the arable, environmental, and renewable energy sectors. I have always aimed to help farmers build resilience during change by providing them with new opportunities, including reducing dependence on subsidies early on.

After many years working closely with farm businesses, I have realised that assessment of these projects can vary widely. In my experience, those who look at the wider benefits, including the Triple Bottom Line of ‘people, planet and profit’, tend to be more successful. By removing the pure profit driver and assessing projects as a whole, famers can move their businesses in directions they didn’t expect. Since starting at Future Biogas more than two years ago, I have seen the benefits of well-integrated, well-managed anaerobic digestion plants, and also experienced the common queries which occur from those outside the AD sector. This led me to look at why there is a perceived resistance to bioenergy crops in the UK and whether there is an opportunity being missed by arable businesses due to misconceptions.

When AD can offer non-commodity-linked and longterm contracts, inorganic fertiliser in livestock free areas, carbon sequestration in the soil, as well as permanent CO2 sequestration under the North Sea why is there still such a strong resistance to this cropping diversification? As part of my scholarship, I will visit countries at different stages of their renewable gas journeys to understand the views and experiences of farmers, local people, and the effect of policy decisions on the AD sector. It is important to understand how farmers in different countries have integrated energy crops, although accepting that climatic differences can play a significant role in those choices. Visiting world-leading Research and Development institutes and Universities to discuss new varieties and potential new energy crops will provide a fascinating insight into future developments.

Agronomist, Agrii Monmouthshire

Having not come from a family farm, I came into the industry open-minded and keen to further my knowledge. This led to me to attend Harper Adams University College to study Agriculture, with my placement year spent in Australia. It was here where my passion for soil health and controlled traffic farming was founded, and I went on to write my dissertation on the effects of controlled traffic farming and direct drilling on soil health. After graduating from Agriculture at Harper Adams, I was selected for the Co-operative Farms Management Trainee Scheme, which gave me a great insight into large scale arable farming. Since 2014, I have been working as an Agronomist in South Wales, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. During this time, I have completed the BASIS Diploma in Agronomy with Environmental Management to ensure my knowledge is relevant and industry leading.

A Nuffield Farming Scholarship has been a long-term aspiration of mine and my study topic is “Do regenerative farming practices pave the way for UK farmers to meet Net Zero?”, sponsored by McDonald’s UK & Ireland. From my Scholarship, I want to understand if UK Agriculture can become more resilient, sustainable and environmentally sensitive – whilst also remaining profitable – by adopting regenerative farming practices.

My studies will focus on the major contributors to carbon emissions and address how we can change practices to mitigate these factors. I plan to travel to the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France, Germany and Denmark, and I want speak to farmers (organic and conventional), agronomists, researchers and academics to ensure a thorough and broadminded approach to this issue. The main areas of focus will be surrounding nutrient management, rotation, cultivation strategy, cover cropping and livestock integration. I want to better understand how these influence and impact carbon footprints within agriculture and how we can use them to our advantage to meet the Net Zero requirements in the future.

Catchment Source Manager, Wessex Water Dorset

I’m an excited 2022 Nuffield Scholar and my topic is no doubt going to generate a lot of healthy debate and differing views: ‘How to create a local soil carbon market between farmers and utility companies’, generously sponsored by the John Oldacre Foundation. Always rooted in agriculture, I grew up in South Dorset milking cows, carting grain, etc. After studying a business degree, I trained as an agronomist and took up various technical and commercial roles within agriculture. Always passionate about the environmental side of agronomy, I now work alongside farmers informing, advising and incentivising them to create positive change to improve drinking water quality across Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset.

At the moment, the soil carbon market feels like the Wild West, with both farmers and buyers cautious about getting involved – rightly so I think! It’s also moving at a pace that can be difficult to keep up with, and there are many difficult-to-answer questions pending. These will need to be answered for soil carbon markets to become better understood and less ‘greenwashed’.

My aim is to help the UK Agriculture and the utilities sectors best understand how they can work together to deliver their Net Zero commitments, while also leaving a legacy of improved farm business resilience to climate change and improved water quality. I’d also like to explore the challenges and barriers of transitioning to regenerative farming systems and how they have been overcome. Travel plans at the moment (subject to COVID!) include the United States, Australia, India, Europe and, of course, the UK. During my travels, I will do a global assessment of soil carbon markets, which means meeting with key stakeholders – including soil carbon buyers, sellers, brokers, investors, experts, accreditors, advocates, sceptics and farmers that have or are transitioning to regenerative systems. If you are one of these people or know one of these people, I’d like to hear from you – you’ll be added to my ‘MOST WANTED’ list of people I’d like to engage with!

I could easily write 10,000 words on this subject, but for now if you want to learn with me as I go, follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter at @soilcarBEN, where I’ll be gradually introducing my topic and updating on my experiences as I go.

Environment Systems Manager, STRI Group Cambridgeshire

I originally studied Ecology at The University of Sheffield and went on to study for an applied research PhD in Green Roof design and technology. For the last 7 years I have worked for STRI, a multi-disciplinary research consultancy specialising in the amenity and sports turf sector. My job roles at STRI have ranged from managing client research trials, developing new technology and most recently acting as an environmental consultant specialising in water management and security

Water is key to most of my work and something I am very passionate about. I am building to become an established cross disciplinary scientist and consultant, specialising in sustainable land practices, with water management at the core of this. To truly have an impact on a wide scale, I believe that it is important to become known and knowledgeable in different industries, specifically large-scale land and resources users like agriculture, horticulture and amenity. To this end, my chosen Nuffield Scholarship topic is “Sustainable water use: opportunities for agriculture based on cross disciplinary knowledge sharing”, and I have the privilege of being sponsored by The Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

I aim to study how similar industries in other countries are dealing with water security issues through a combination of technology, sustainable management practices, water reduction, and alternative water sourcing. For me, the integration of solving issues caused by too much water (drainage) and too little water (drought) is key to providing long term sustainable solutions, and something I will be looking at in detail during my travels. I am particularly interested in how water issues can be solved through a combination of low and high-tec solutions. An overarching theme of my work is the effect of climate change – and how all industries need to future proof their water supplies and management – in order to be remain viable in a changing world.

If you are interested in finding out more information about my work or study topic, I can be found on Twitter at @striturf_tomy or

Arable Farmer, J. H. Simpson & Son Cambridgeshire

I returned to our family arable farm in 2015 after a short stint in the British Army. I was very fortunate that my father has been focused on soil health for the last 20 years and as a result we were in a great position to move from scratch till to full no-till a few years after I returned. In Cambridgeshire, we farm mainly on clay or clay loam soils with some fen peatland, and this provided a variety of the usual challenges when it came to direct drilling. I quickly realised that the establishment method was only a small part of a much larger system and that success would depend on fully adopting regenerative principles. 

I started trialling over winter cover crops, a simple oat and oil radish mix. The following spring barley crop fared well where I terminated the cover early however, where I left some strips to drill on the green in the spring there was a clear yield penalty. The following OSR crop also suffered much more slug pressure where the cover crop had been. It became apparent I had a lot to learn about cover crop selection and timings. But there was definitely something in it because in that same wet autumn of 2019 we also tried drilling winter wheat into OSR volunteers. Not only did drilling on the green allow us to travel in the wet, but the huge slug population focused solely on eating the OSR volunteers and left the wheat alone.

This led me to apply for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to study my topic ‘Cover and catch cropping opportunities in UK arable agriculture’, which has been generously sponsored by McDonald’s UK & Ireland. To better understand successfully growing cover crops in an arable system, I am hoping to travel to North America, Northern Europe, Scandinavia and closer to home in the UK. I want to get to grips with how and when to establish (or when not to), what mixes to use in different situations and how and when to terminate a cover. I will also look for other opportunities that the use of cover crops can create, such as allowing a new entrant access to a cluster of land to graze the cover crops – hopefully benefiting the soil and the bank balance of all parties involved. Additionally, I have noticed sunflower trails have proven popular with members of the public and on social media, giving a farmer the opportunity to positively engage with the local community while adding diversity into a rotation or perhaps filling a gap in a failed OSR crop. 

I am very much looking forward to sharing my Nuffield journey over the next few years. If you would like to follow along, you can do so on Twitter at @tjcsimpson.