Published in the Scottish Farming Journal – October 2018
This month I want to cover the Global Focus Programme (GFP), which is an amazing opportunity to travel across three continents, over a five-week period to study global agriculture. I was one of five UK Nuffield scholars that got the opportunity to go on this amazing trip, and wow, what an opportunity it was! I was selected to go on the African focused tour, which covered the US, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Kenya and finished in South Africa. The African focused tour was made up of eight other international Nuffield scholars, with representatives from Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. This international mix brought an amazing dynamic to the group! Our tour kicked off in the US, and our first stop was Oregon, where we visited an array of amazing business systems, including dairy, beef, oyster and nut production. One of our first visits was to the Oregon Food Innovation Centre in Portland, where they are focused on developing local value-added products for the local and international markets. We then went on to visit the Wheat Marketing Centre, where they gave us a great overview of their key export markets and their future strategy, which included a focus on quality and value.
Figure 1: Africa GFP group at the Wheat Marketing Centre in Oregon, US
Our next meeting was with North West Hazelnuts and George Packing Company, who process approximately 50% of the North Western US hazelnuts. They have a great relationship with both the producers and the buyers, and have an emphasis on quality. This was an exciting business, that has utilised solar power, and seems to have great growth potential.
Our time in Oregon also focused on the fisheries and aquaculture industries. We spent an afternoon at the Oregon Oyster Farm, who are successful in both the domestic and international markets, and are highly concentrated on meeting customer needs. We also visited the Oyster Hatchery, who supply 70% of the West Coast Oyster Spat. One of the main issues highlighted was ocean acidification, and the impact it could have on spat supply. However, it was great to see the Oyster producing community working side by side with their local University to address this issue.
Figure 2: Oyster production in Oregon, US.
The scale of farming in the US was unbelievable. We visited a 1,700 cow dairy near Newport, however that was small in comparison to the east side of Oregon, where a 30,000-cow dairy is the norm. I really enjoyed visiting the Tillamook dairy area, as their cooperative have developed a strong premium brand. They have a fantastic shop and educational facilities, which is playing an important role in bridging the urban-rural gap.
We also visited a local beef farmer who was marketing and selling his own meet. This definitely caught my interest, as my dad did this over 20 years ago. It got me thinking how online platforms make marketing your produce so much easier these days, especially with the increased interest in supporting the farm to fork movement.
Throughout Oregon, access to skilled workforce was a major issue. However, I was impressed by the system in Tillamook, where the community were heavily involved with funding the local extension office, and subsequently training the next generation.
Oregon has the perfect mild damp conditions for slugs, and everywhere we went growers were complaining of slug damage. For this reason, I chose to come back to Oregon for my own personal travels, but I will discuss this in more detail in a future article.
Our next stop on our US tour was Washington DC, where we met with officials from the USDA, as well as the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Our meetings in DC were heavily concentrated on the Farm Bill, as well as issues impacting the US agricultural industry, such as recession, increased international competition, and oversupply of milk and wheat.
Figure 3: Jenna at the USDA in Washington, DC
Figure 4: Jenna and Alison in front of the White House, Washington, DC
The next stage of our trip took us east towards the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to spend much time in the Czech Republic, as I had to fly back to the UK to attend the LANTRA Awards dinner. But it was all worth it when I won the LANTRA Higher Education Learner of the Year award and the CARAS award, and got to meet Dougie Vipond!
Figure 5: Quick pitstop at the LANTRA awards to receive the Learner of the Year and CARAS awards from Dougie Vipond
After a brief 48 hours on UK soil, I re-joined my GFP group in Prague, before flying onwards to the Ukraine. Now, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Ukraine, especially considering the ongoing conflict with Russia, and the economic and political instability. But wow, Ukraine really surprised me. What a place! We met with some truly inspirational farmers, who were driven, and fully embracing the challenge of farming in this extreme environment. They were running highly productive systems, in some of the blackest soils I have ever seen.
Figure 6: Africa GFP group in Ukraine
Agriculture makes up approximately 10% of the economy in Ukraine, and farming operations can scale up to 600,000 Ha, with an average of 11 tonnes/Ha. Land is rented from local landowners, with land sales being prohibited. The average plot is around 2 Ha, with many farmers having a team of administrative and legal people working on lease agreements. They use a variety of different tillage systems, and grow an array of spring, summer and winter crops. Their soils have high organic content, and they apply low levels of chemical pesticides, with winter temperatures controlling pest pressure. I saw no signs of slug damage, but if I am honest, it is only a matter of time before these pests invade Ukraine, especially seeing the impact they have had in Poland in recent years as agricultural systems have intensified.
The US and the Ukraine were very different places, but both very impressive in their own right. Join me next time to hear more about my GFP adventures, as the group travel through Kenya and South Africa. You can also follow my journey on twitter @DrJennaRoss.