Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Second leg of Nuffield journey - onto Vermont

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries to find out more about emissions reductions projects for farmers. In the second of a three-part series, she visits Vermont and looks at the issue of water management.


The second leg of my journey took me north to Vermont to meet farmers and understand why they were changing their management practices. A big concern for these farmers was water management. Vermont has a growing local food movement, connecting consumers with farmers and its location allows it access to many urban affluent populations including Boston and New York.

The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Vermont was running a project looking at farming and climate change and working with farmers using research on-farm to provide farm-level data. I saw a range of projects, including monitoring nutrient levels, sediment and water loss from fields under different tillage and the use of woodchip pads as an out-wintering strategy for livestock farmers. Connecting scientists and farmers makes it possible to see what works before making large investments. It was a great couple of days meeting people who were open to new ideas and proving concepts by looking at farm-based research.




The big issue in Vermont is water quality and there is a real threat that there may be increased regulation to address the issues of run-off, water quality and soil erosion. I met with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, a farmer-led organisation set up to provide leadership and a unified voice for farmers to proactively protect water quality in Lake Champlain. They are a not-for-profit organisation that makes sure farmers’ voices are heard by the general public, policy makers, other farmers and regulators.


Their chair explained: “We are a group of farmers in the Lake Champlain Basin who have taken a leadership role, showing that farm economic resiliency and a clean lake can work together. We are primarily a farmer-based corporation that exists to be a unified voice for farmers who are proactively addressing water quality.”

Following my time in Vermont, I journeyed to Pennsylvania to a conference on Sustainable Agriculture and then flew to Colorado to talk metrics and models with the team that construct America’s annual inventory of greenhouse gases. They are developing tools for farmers that allow them to understand the impact or opportunity of changing management on emissions, and are integrating these into delivery programmes.


My next blog will take me to Nebraska, where I will be looking at soil health and understanding how with their low rainfall affects their farming. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

American Adventures – Becky Willson's Nuffield Scholar trip

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries running emissions reductions projects for farmers. In a three-part blog series she gives an insight into what she learnt during a recent trip to the United States.


I was awarded an AHDB-sponsored Nuffield scholarship in 2015 to look at the importance of communicating carbon reduction to the agricultural industry and how to motivate farmers to learn more about how to reduce emissions and achieve business benefits.

The most recent leg of my Nuffield travels took me on a three-week trip to the US to see some of the projects that have been taking place stateside focusing specifically on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. I arrived the day after President Trump started his travel ban and, despite some trepidation, I was thankfully allowed in to begin a busy schedule of farm visits and meetings.

My trip schedule (as with all good Nuffield visits) spanned the width of the US, and involved meetings with politicians, project holders, researchers, farmers and a few other characters. My aim was to get more of an understanding of what is happening on farm around carbon reduction and look at some of the supported programmes to find out what is motivating farmers to change their management practices.



I quickly learnt my first lesson, which was to check the weather forecast before going to North America in the middle of winter, where the temperature is regularly -10 Degrees Celsius.

My adventure started with a visit to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington DC to talk policies, programmes and practices. I met a range of different people and it was interesting to hear about the different activities going on through the climate hubs model, which allows farmers to access payments for practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or improve soil carbon sequestration. A stand-out benefit of this model is co-ordination. The hubs included the USDA, The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Agricultural Research Service, universities, extension providers and others that provide co-ordinated actions, which are adapted to regional conditions and priorities. Bringing everyone around the table ensured that the messaging to famers is consistent and everything is included in the discussion.

Another interesting project I learnt more about is the Useful to Usable project, which for the first time is including social scientists in projects that are able to address the very question of behavioural change. Randy Johnson, who heads up the Agricultural research organisation NIFA’s global climate change work explained: 

It’s got to be a team effort, and include co-production of knowledge, if you do that you are halfway there as you are all invested in the solutions. We can’t deal with the big stuff in isolation, we have got to co-produce and work together.”




It was a fascinating first leg of my journey, and I have gained so much insight into farming practices in the US. Catch the second part of my blog next week, which looks at my time spent in Vermont and understanding their uptake of new technology in farming.