Nuffield Australia WA chairman Reece Curwen.

Nuffield providing virtual and Aussie tours until scholars are allowed to travel internationally

Main Image: Nuffield Australia WA chairman Reece Curwen. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman, Cally Dupe Picture: Cally Dupe

Email Shannon Verhagen

It is not a matter of if, but when the latest cohort of Nuffield Australia’s scholars will be able to travel overseas as part of the prestigious program, according to its WA chairman.

The prestigious organisation plans to draw upon its 70-year alumni network to conduct Australian and virtual farm business tours in the meantime.

Before COVID-19, the $30,000 Nuffield scholarships — which are generally for a two-year period — included 14 weeks of travel, with scholars jetting around the world to meet with farmers and producers. Australia’s hard border has put a halt to travel for 2020 and 2021 scholars.

South Stirlings farmer and 2015 scholar Reece Curwen — who took the reins as chairman last year — said he hoped travel would resume next year.

“Hopefully next year some time scholars will be able to head overseas,” he said. “That’s one of the main principles of Nuffield — getting outside your own patch and country and gaining a new perspective of agriculture.”

He himself has travelled to 16 countries with the program.

2021 Nuffield Scholar Camille Camp.
Camera Icon2021 Nuffield Scholar Camille Camp. Credit: Stephanie Coombes

While the hard border remains in place, scholars have been logging into virtual tours with global farm businesses through Zoom, with Nuffield Australia drawing on its 70 years of more than 1800 alumni.

“Nuffield Australia adapted quickly last year and turned to its network to learn first-hand how their businesses were adapting to COVID challenges while providing an avenue for education and leadership for current scholars,” Mr Curwen said. “It really shows the power of the network — it’s pretty amazing to get that sort of time and exposure with incredible individuals that are so passionate about their industry and community.

“It’s not quite the same as previous years, but it’s the next best thing.”

Boyanup's Rob Bell in a pasture of Balansa clover.
Camera IconBoyanup's Rob Bell in a pasture of Balansa clover. Credit: Shannon Verhagen

Elgin seed crop and beef farmer and 2021 Nuffield scholar Rob Bell said he had been able to log into tours in Kenya and the Netherlands so far, and would soon enjoy a virtual tour of Ireland.

“It’s been really interesting,” Mr Bell said.

“We get to talk to the farmers one-on-one and ask them questions. There’s been some funky times — 4am to 4pm — but I’ve got to see five farms in Kenya this year, and no one else has.

“Normally you’d see them in the flesh, which we’d love to do, but this is the next best thing and it’s only through Nuffield’s extensive network that we can do it.”

2021 Nuffield Scholar Kathryn Fleay.
Camera Icon2021 Nuffield Scholar Kathryn Fleay. Credit: Nuffield Australia

He is one of four WA 2021 scholars, with Mingenew’s Kathryn Fleay, Kalyeeda Station’s Camille Camp, and Kununurra’s Fritz Bolten also awarded scholarships this year.

Mr Bell said the tours ran for about an hour each day in five-day blocks, with scholars logging in to “visit” a different farm on each of the days, with each five-day block focused on a different country.

With previous years’ scholars physically travelling to explore the farms, Mr Bell said they had probably seen more, despite the limitations.

“Nuffield has a level of access that no other scholarship program has, and gaining insights into overseas farms and agribusinesses virtually in 2021 has been eye-opening,” he said. “These virtual tours have been brilliant to make the most of the experience so far.”

2021 Nuffield Scholar Fritz Bolten.
Camera Icon2021 Nuffield Scholar Fritz Bolten. Credit: Nuffield Australia

Mr Curwen said Nuffield was developing a selection of domestic bus and plane tours for scholars later this year and would look to draw on the New Zealand travel bubble down the track.

“One of the highlights of the scholarship is the group travel with other current scholars, which are eye-opening and inspiring,” he said.

“The other scholars you travel with become lifelong friends that together experience something pretty special.”

“And maybe having an Australia-focused tour will be more suited for some people.”

He said it scholars would normally see what was happening in their patch towards the end of the program, but the timeline had been flipped to adapt to the circumstances.

Applications are now open for 2022 scholarships, which Mr Curwen encouraged aspiring scholars to apply for and assured would also include international travel, when permitted.

“The quality of the program is still there, it’s got one of the most amazing networks and they will definitely be travelling overseas at some point — it’s just a matter of when,” he said. “And the organisation is just adapting in the meantime.

“The scholarship is not only an investment in your business it’s also an investment in your own personal development, agricultural industries alike all need the next generation of leaders to continue to develop.”

Applications close August 6. To find out more or apply, visit nuffield.com.au.