Students from Writtle University College received three talks at the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers Seminar on Wednesday 13 February from scholars of the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust – an organisation devoted to helping individuals make advances in agriculture and horticulture.
The session was chaired by Chris Newenham, joint managing director of Wilkin and Sons of Tiptree, and introduced speakers from the UK fruit and arable sectors to talk about their scholarship work.
Doug Hutton-Squire, Fruit Agronomy Manager at BASF and an independent fruit grower, started with a talk on the importance of collaboration between innovators from around the world. "The horticultural sector needs enquiring minds", he explained, to overcome the challenges of improving fruit yields without wasting natural resources.
He himself works with partners as far away as Chile, South Africa, the USA and New Zealand to evaluate the potential of new technologies such as robotic surveying, aerial drones, and precision land management. He says: "the process of collecting field data isn't easy, but very rewarding. The shifting demands of retailers on quality of fresh produce present challenges and opportunities for the next generation of growers".
Tom Bradshaw, an arable farmer from Essex whose site was featured on the BBC's Harvest programme, focused on the care of the land as a driver of sustainable yields. He believes that we are starting to feel the effects of short-sighted growing practices in the 1970s, with soil erosion and degradation becoming increasing problems. "There will be another Green Revolution – there needs to be," he told the students from across all years of agriculture and horticulture courses at Writtle.
He takes a pragmatic approach, choosing the best practices from a range of growing systems to encourage higher yields while also allowing soil quality to improve at the same time.
Last up was James Smith, a Kentish fruit grower whose project worked to place UK production in context with the rest of the world. It emphasised how horticulture is increasingly an industry where links with retailers and awareness of the market are crucial.
Smith was also keen to underline the unsettling effects of climate change on production. "Do not believe that you can carry on doing what you have always done" was his message. Changing consumer trends and patterns of growing around the globe make horticulture a challenging career.
Above all, the session impressed the importance of the Nuffield Scholarship programme, to allow passionate individuals with an idea they would like to pursue to engage with industry professionals around the world. The products of their research will allow future generations to meet demand for food crops with greater sustainability and reduced environmental impact.
It is hoped that students from Writtle will feel inspired to apply for a scholarship to further their careers in years to come.