Tom Bradshaw - What my Nuffield farming scholarship did for me

Tom Bradshaw

“Looking back what impact did the scholarship experience have on you?”

I have never been clear why or how, but I know when I arrived back from the CSC I had a different perspective of global agriculture, a greater confidence to articulate the challenges and opportunities, and had met and heard from some inspiring leaders that shaped my thinking. I wouldn’t say there was one lightbulb moment, but over the course of my 18 month scholarship I developed a clear view of what I thought was sustainable for the future of global food production. I was lucky enough to meet a full range; from pioneering organic advisors and producers through to biotech giants in South America. When I applied for my scholarship, I thought that the UK and EU were at the forefront of world agriculture, but hearing others refer to the EU as the museum of world agriculture raised questions and challenges. We use the latest scientific developments within the medical industry, but we aren’t able to use the same science to develop truly sustainable food production systems. The most challenging part of the scholarship was at the ACRES USA conference where everything in conventional agriculture was being challenged and questioned. To go through the process of questioning why you are doing everything; from suing synthetic fertiliser to pesticides was a very powerful exercise.

Within the farm we have become far more business focussed and alongside this have tried to develop an approach that utilises direct drilling and cover crops where possible. With the structure of our business being based around contract farming this is more challenging with focus often on short term results rather than longer term fertility and sustainability.

“What have been your wider achievements since your Nuffield Scholarship?”

The most notable moment was in 2012, my Nuffield report was still hot off the press, and I answered the phone in the middle of harvest to “It’s X from the BBC here, could we come and see you? By the way we have read your Nuffield report”. That phone call led to me representing the Industry on BBC Harvest (sold to me as opportunity to reconnect the public with farming). Going into the farmyard with 20+ people in high-viz jackets during harvest in 2013 I questioned my decision, but it was a fantastic programme and an amazing experience to be part of – meeting Greg Wallace and Philippa Forrester (one of them was lovely) in the process.

I had been slightly critical of the AHDB in my report, but highlighted that many farmers around the world would love to have a levy board such as the AHDB, but it was funded by us and we needed to take responsibility for steering the ship. This led to us applying to become an AHDB Monitor Farm.

I also got more involved with the NFU – I was on the East Anglia crops board at the time of my scholarship but in 2014 I was appointed to the National board before becoming Chair and then earlier this year was elected Vice President of the NFU.

I believe that having the perspective of global agriculture helps with the roles that I have had in the industry and I’m sure that I wouldn’t be doing what I am now if I hadn’t been given the opportunity of a scholarship and the very generous sponsorship of Alan and Anne Beckett.