Three things I learnt in Brazil – Nuffield Scholar Tom Scrope

In this latest blog post, Tom Scrope, Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s sponsored 2024 Nuffield Farming Scholar reports on his recent trip to Brazil at the start of his roving international research mission.

I recently arrived back from Brazil where I marked the start of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship travels which sees me studying my chosen topic of ‘Growing Together: Exploring new ways of farmer knowledge exchange to secure stronger soil’.

Thanks to the award of a Nuffield Scholarship sponsored by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, my South American trip was just the beginning of an international research mission which I hope will ultimately benefit farmers in the UK.

A long way from home in Great Ayton where my family farms, I was in Mato Grosso do Sul province in Western Brazil to take part in the Contemporary Scholars Conference.

It was a great opportunity to learn about Brazilian agriculture, and to meet other Scholars from 13 countries around the world.

My 3 big takeaways

During my Nuffield journey, I am sharing what I learn along the way and the Brazilian trip brought home three big things for me.

Firstly, the massive scale of Brazilian agriculture. It dwarfs what we do in the UK. They farm tens of millions of hectares.

Tropical soils and climate allow two or even three crops a year off the same field.

A small country like ours can’t compete in producing the bulk commodity crops that feed the majority of the world’s population.

Our focus will always have to be on helping feed the couple of billion people who can afford higher value food and shorter food miles.

For my work at agronomy software start-up Soil Benchmark, it emphasised that if we want to have a significant global impact on soil health, the UK is a great place to start, but the big prize is the scale of Brazil and the US.

In pursuit of resilience

The second key learning I took away from Brazil was how sustainable soil management is being adopted at huge scale, simply because it’s good for the farm’s business.

They weren’t changing to claim a subsidy or get an environmental credit. They wanted more resilient yields and lower input costs.

Researchers openly stated that their goal was to help farmers make more money, which meant that farmers seemed to trust them more and followed their advice, which was often around better soil management.

If environmental organisations back home really focused on helping farmers make more money, they might find they have more impact on the sustainability outcomes they are after.

Inspiring connections

Thirdly, I found that the ‘strike rate’ of interesting people among the Nuffield Scholars was exceptional. Why did I have more thought-provoking and insightful conversations in two weeks than I would normally have in two years?

They were a reflective bunch, not self-obsessed, but willing to stand back, look at, and talk about themselves and their lives in an open and truthful way. There are few quicker ways of building a relationship fast.

Also, they were all ambitious: passionate about whatever it was they were pursuing and wanting to make an impact with their work. They were forging the path in life that they wanted, not just drifting on the current.

The two together made for some exceptional people I’m lucky to now call friends and I can’t wait to continue the conversations during my travels over the next year.

Next stop

My next trip is going to be to The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark in mid-June.

I’ve got a few good contacts in each country, but if anyone reading this has particular contacts in these countries who they you think I should speak to as part of my studies, it would be brilliant to hear from you at tom@soilbenchmark.com.

For more information about professional development support offered by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, click here for Grants & Scholarships and here for information about our Farming Networks.

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