11 Nuffield scholars visit Wisconsin farms
WATERTOWN - It was the last leg of a worldwide tour for 11 farmers from 10 different countries as they visited the Never Rest Dairy in Jefferson County on June 19 and learned about dairy farming and robotic milking.
The Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust awards individuals each year with the opportunity to research topics of interest. This year - the first time ever - the scholars stopped in Wisconsin, meeting with state leadership, spending time with a host family and visiting three farms on a tour hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
"The Scholars are working internationally to build partnerships studying best practices in agriculture," Tivoli Gough, NRCS state public affairs specialist said in an email. "They are on the leading edge of their profession and working towards meeting the demands of an increasingly quality and environmentally conscious world."
During the Wisconsin tour, the group visited a rotational grazing operation that raises custom dairy heifers and crops, a smaller organic CSA and a pastured meat farm that utilizes hoop houses and irrigation.
At Never Rest Dairy, Ashley and Troy Schlender talked to the group about the free stall barn with robotic milkers they built in 2014. Additionally, Troy runs a custom chopping business running about 6,000 acres through his self-propelled chopper to diversify the farm income.
"These are my favorite kind of tours," said Ashley. "I think it's great to have people from other countries coming out - the sharing of information, understanding their struggles. Some of them are the same."
The scholars came with different backgrounds - beef farming, marketing wine, organic farming, nutrition, cropping and horticulture.
David Kidd, a New Zealand beef farmer, sees the Nuffield Scholarship as "a fantastic opportunity to have a look at different systems, to see what is similar, to see if there are new technologies" and ways people are "solving the same problems we have back home."
During his time in Wisconsin, Kidd spent time with a family who had previously run a direct consumer beef business.
"That fascinated me as something I'd quite like to do back in New Zealand," said Kidd. "Everything I've seen in Wisconsin is amazing soils, amazing cropping practices."
Kidd has a 1,400 acre beef farm in New Zealand where they run 1,200 to 1,400 cattle off an all grass system.
"We do some cropping, but generally cropping to replace existing pastures and bring in new grass species to the operation," Kidd said.
He was interested in the visit to the farm that uses a rotational grazing system based on alfalfa and mixed grasses and the longevity they get out of their pastures.
"They are getting really good longevity growing similar amounts of dry matter and a very short window compared to me," said Kidd. "It takes me 365 days to grow slightly more with very little fertilizer."
What Kidd finds great about the Nuffield scholarship is "the opportunity to build a wide network around the world of like-minded people who you can call on if you're looking to solve a different problem."
"It gives us the opportunity to build networks, that as agriculture becomes more interlinked around the world, that you know someone that may be in that leadership position around the world that you can call on to have a one-to-one discussion rather than not knowing who to talk to," Kidd explained.
Carla Borges, who works with her family in Brazil running four farms of crops, mostly soybeans and corn, said the main thing she gained from the scholarship was getting to see how people in other countries do things differently and see how they value farming.
"It's really helpful for me because once I come back to my country, I know there are other options, other business models, and that's really helpful for me in my private business, but also to come back home and spread it with my colleagues, other farmers, and also farming institutions," said Borges.
The biggest thing Borges learned during the tour was that farmers in Brazil are doing a great job preserving the environment, but they need to organize as a group to inform people in cities of the value provided by farmers.
Desise Doetzer, from Virginia, and Ron Helinski, from Maryland, volunteer every year to take the Nuffield scholars on the U. S. leg of their tour.
Doetzer said it's an honor for the scholars to be chosen for the program. One of the favorite parts of the tour for the scholars is spending a day and night with a host family while in the U. S., where they can experience a cultural exchange.
"That's usually the highlight for them because they get that one on one time with them," Doetzer said. "If you only get one nugget that's new, it can change the whole economy of what you're doing. It's a wonderful experience."
For more information about the Nuffield Scholar program visit nuffieldscholar.org.