Nuffield study for entrepreneur on soils mission – Tom Scrope

Digital entrepreneur Tom Scrope from North Yorkshire is embarking on an international mission to understand how more farmers can unlock the benefits of healthier soils, thanks to a prestigious Nuffield Farming Scholarship sponsored by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

Tom, aged 29, who grew up on a small farm on the edge of the North York Moors in Great Ayton, will explore ‘Growing Together: Exploring new ways of farmer knowledge exchange to secure stronger soils’ during his Scholarship journey.

He is keen to understand how farmers can learn from what has, and has not, worked on other farms to improve soil health so that farmers can avoid making mistakes that have already been overcome by others.

As part of his Scholarship studies, Tom plans to visit France and Australia where established networks of farmers, academics and government are sharing soil knowledge and data in ways that are not yet happening in the UK.

He also hopes to visit the US and will travel throughout Yorkshire and elsewhere in the UK on his fact-finding tour.

Tom Scrope

Society backing for Tom

Since 1980, farming charity the Yorkshire Agricultural Society has sponsored Nuffield Farming Scholarships which provide the opportunity to study and travel abroad, meet like-minded people and explore cutting edge developments in the agricultural industry.

Allister Nixon, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society said:

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society is delighted to be sponsoring Tom’s Scholarship, not least because we recognise the importance of knowledge exchange between farmers.

This is something we actively encourage through the work of our own farming networks that bring farming and industry professionals together throughout the year.

We wish Tom well on his journey and look forward to hearing his findings on this important topic.

Tom said:

I’m really looking forward to learning new things during my Scholarship and working out what’s applicable to bring back to Yorkshire and the rest of the UK, and it would not be possible without the generosity of my sponsor the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

At the cutting edge of farming’s data revolution

Tom is already part of a data revolution in farming.

Last year, having stepped away from a career in accounting, he co-founded the forward-thinking data analytics start-up, Soil Benchmark with Ben Butler, a former Digital Soil Scientist at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen.

Their innovative software venture interprets complex farmland data to produce soil health action plans for farmers, agronomists and advisors, helping farms to position themselves to benefit from the Government’s new environment-based farm payment schemes.

Yet, Tom believes there needs to be a greater network for knowledge exchange to speed up the adoption of best practice amid the “compelling” dual challenges of climate change and the need to feed a growing population.

Tom said:

What I want to understand is what sort of networks we need in England to make sure knowledge exchange happens at scale, to unlock the true potential of farmland soils.

Through Soil Benchmark, we have found that agronomists are usually well-placed for disseminating knowledge, but what are the other routes?

Better soil health is critical if we are to get to the NFU’s net zero ambitions for the industry by 2040, but it’s also about more than net zero emissions.

Good soil health can bring about benefits for water quality, it reduces costs to a business through the need for fewer inputs, and it increases financial resilience.

It could be that good soil health can generate income and save costs in a way that replaces single farm payments which are now being phased out by the Government.

Tom plans to set off on his international tour in Summer 2024.

In the meantime, he would welcome recommendations from those in the industry on anyone he should visit, both in the UK or abroad. Tom can be contacted via email at tom@soilbenchmark.com.

After his trip, Tom will present a report to the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust in 2025 when his findings will be published and shared with the wider industry.

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