WA’s Nuffield Scholars prepare to travel the world as COVID-19 border restrictions ease

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Fritz Bolten at his Kununurra farm.
Camera IconFritz Bolten at his Kununurra farm. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

Ord farmer Fritz Bolten says this is the year he will sink his teeth into a global scholarship program after two years of pandemic-related challenges, including border closures and a bout of COVID-19.

The pandemic threw a spanner in Mr Bolten’s plans to embark on his Nuffield Scholarship in more ways than one after his goal to travel the world was sidelined by WA’s hard border closures.

Mr Bolten finally travelled to London in March and was hit with a bout of COVID-19 upon arrival – meaning he was isolating in a hotel room while his fellow scholars were at the international Contemporary Scholars Conference.

It was the first time the once-annual event had been held since 2020, giving scholars from around the world the chance to gather to network and engage with industry leaders.

An eternal optimist, Mr Bolten said he had learned a lot about himself during his week in isolation and had been blown away by the support from the tight-knit global Nuffield network.

“It was disappointing, I learned a lot about myself and the support I got from the Nuffield network was really incredible… it made me feel very blessed to be a part of it,” he said.

“I felt very fortunate that my experience with COVID was not as bad as many other people’s.”

Mr Bolten and Kalyeeda stockwoman Camille Camp brought the total number of Kimberley-based Nuffield scholars to four when they were appointed in October 2021.

Ord cotton grower Luke McKay made history when he became the region’s first Nuffield scholar in 2018, with Cone Bay Ocean Barramundi nursery manager Albertus Hanekom the second in 2020.

Before COVID-19, the $30,000 scholarships allowed recipients to spend 14 weeks travelling — across two years — to examine a topic important to their respective industry.

The scholarships are open to farmers, fishers and those in associated industries aged 28 to 45.

Mr Bolten said his cohort was a “good year” behind due to the COVID-19 challenges, but he planned to start his travel and research in Singapore in June, before travelling to Holland, Canada and the US.

He hopes to hand down a report into his research by the end of 2023.

Mr Bolten runs a 957ha irrigated, mixed grain and cotton farm in Kununurra’s Ord Irrigation Area, growing maize, mung beans and plantago.

Mr Bolten described his Nuffield research as “two-tiered”, with plans to investigate ways to mitigate extreme weather events affecting time-sensitive operations on heavy soils during the wet season.

A big focus will be on global production systems, and mechanical and technological solutions to help create “more trafficable and protected soils”.

“At the moment, the thought really is ‘the bigger the better’ for planting equipment,” he said.

“I think we could end up having little tractors or autonomous vehicles on farms.

“We have two issues, it is normally too wet get on the paddock without doing severe damage to our soils… and it can also be extremely hot and hostile growing conditions.

“So we might utilise different machinery to get on the ground, but we might also plant some cover crops to protect the soil from rain and heat.”

Nuffield Australia opened applications for its 2023 cohort this month, with applications open until June 17 and shortlisted applicants set to be interviewed in July and August.

Successful recipients will be announced at the Nuffield Australia National Conference in Tamworth in September.

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