Nuffield Farming Scholarship TrustThe Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trusts annual conference was held this year in Belfast.

I was up for the Steven and Gillian Bullock Award – for the scholar who has done most with their award ten years on, but it was also a great way to check up on the exploits of the 2013 scholars, including:

Richard Pennock who found thriving beef industries in the USA, Australia and Brazil. They dispense with a store period and finish lighter, younger cattle than in the UK, utilising the period of maximal feed efficiency to cut costs.

Australian and American beef is also graded on factors such as eating quality – not just carcase conformation as here. He said the most effective way to guarantee quality is to use a grading system that rewards the production of high eating quality beef.

Cider applesBritish cider takes on the world
Good news! The UK market for cider has rocketed over the past decade – up from 1.2% to 9.4% of UK total alcohol sales in 2012. And cider is going global, with worldwide consumption predicted to grow by around 5% a year up to 3bn litres by 2020.

After his study travels, cider grower Neil Macdonald feels that there is no better opportunity to grow cider apples than here in the UK, where there is the knowledge, structure and a great British brand to deliver.

For Jen Hunter, wool is an ancient fibre, but it has suffered from the appearance of man-made materials in the post-war 1940s, and the continuing demand for cheap clothing.

Jen met groups of people working in Australia, Iceland, Chile and Patagonia, producing fabulous sustainable, native colour yarns, selling them as valuable commodities within specific markets.

She thinks there are global consumers that consider wool to be worth their investment and who respect our Great British textile heritage. British wool producers need to take advantage of this by making niche wool products desirable and more accessible.

Livestock on arable farms
I was really interested to listen to David Walston, not least because his farm backs onto the primary school my children went to!Herbal Ley

He was puzzled why some of his fields, of similar soil type, performed better than others. On examination, the best ones were those that had most recently been used for growing grass and grazing livestock. No surprise there then!

In his travels, David looked at no-till and cover and companion cropping and the integration of livestock onto arable farms. Convinced that he has to improve soil health back at home, he has embraced no-till cultivations and introduced multi-species leys and cattle – which I hope to go and see next spring.

Finally – the one true grass scholarship went to Mike Miller, whose journey convinced him of the profitability of All Winter Grazing of sheep, although he suggests that four day-shifts as opposed to daily moves, could provide easier management, less labour and a larger area to carry stock if wet.

There we are – a snapshot of a brilliant Nuffield conference. Well done to everyone presenting this year. And no, I didn’t win the Bullock Award – that honour went to my good friend, mid-Wales beef and sheep farmer John Yeomans. Well done John, you deserve it!!

whispers in the grass Receive up-to-date news and special product offers