What’s all this about then?

For the last couple of years I have been looking for a change and a challenge. Something to connect my career in the media with my farming background.

I had a few ideas.

First, I applied for a part-time Post Graduate Diploma in Agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. And then realised it was going to cost me £10,000 and I couldn’t get the time off work to attend lectures.

Next I considered taking a career break, moving home to Shropshire and becoming Dad’s farming apprentice. I got every excited about this idea. I’d rear Welsh pigs and sell them direct to restaurants, who’d surely pay good money for my delicious locally produced pork. And then it struck me that the last thing my fiercely independent father wants is his prodigal, townified firstborn trailing after him, questioning his ways of working and suggesting new ones.

And I know nothing about pig farming.

So I was pretty stumped. I believe passionately in British farming and desperately wanted in. But for the last 14 years I’ve been a journalist and television director, living in Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol. Life had taken me down a very different road. I was worried there was no going back.

Nuffield

I was producing a programme about women in agriculture for BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme when I first heard the term ‘Nuffield Scholar’. A colleague said: “You should give Tanya Robbins a call – she did her Nuffield on innovative women in agriculture.”

A Nuffield Scholarship. It sounded so…authoritative.

I took a drive out to Tanya’s farm in Gloucestershire, recorded the interview and picked her brains. She spoke about Nuffield with such pride and energy that I felt immediately inspired, and knew it was the challenge I had been looking for.

Good for you – but what IS it?

It’s a scholarship programme which funds around 20 people every year to travel the world researching subjects linked to farming and rural life. There’s a charity called the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust which makes it all possible. No, it’s not the private healthcare and gym people, but they do share the same roots – or at least the same founding father.

William Morris, aka Lord Nuffield, made his fortune with the Morris Cowley motorcar and went on to give huge chunks of that fortune away to good causes. As the grandson of a farmer, he was keen to support the advancement of agriculture.

The first Nuffield Farming Scholars were selected in 1947. They set out into the world to sniff out innovative agricultural techniques and shared them with farmers back home. The scholarship scheme was such a success it broke away from the main Nuffield Foundation and became an independent Trust in its own right. Ever since Nuffield Scholars have been regarded as the bright, forward thinkers of the farming industry.

But I’m not a farmer

I was worried about this, but previous scholars assured me that being a farmer isn’t the be all and end all. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of scholars are farmers but if you have a good idea, the right attitude and a genuine passion for agriculture – then you stand just as good a chance. And I’m not a complete outside bet. My Dad, and at least four generations before him, were all farmers. And I’ve managed to carve a little niche for myself at the BBC, specialising in rural affairs. I’m a Director on BBC One’s runaway hit Countryfile and a Producer for Radio 4’s Farming Today. I may not be at Dad’s side from sunrise to sunset, but farming is most definitely in the blood.

2016 is about exploring that part of me. I’m taking a few months off work (a huge thank you to Countryfile for supporting this crazy adventure of mine) and undertaking a mission that will draw as much on my journalistic experience as my interest in agriculture. Introducing my Nuffield Scholarship:

Help or Hinder? Examining the Coverage of Farming in the News Media.

I will be travelling to the US, India, New Zealand, France, Belgium and Ireland to explore the portrayal of farming in newspapers, radio and television news. Why? Well, some believe the way we do it here in the UK doesn’t quite reflect the reality of this complex industry. There’s a feeling that farming is somehow disconnected from a largely urban population and the British media has been criticised for forcing it into two diametrically opposed and unhelpful stereotypes. The rose-tinted, Darling Buds of May image of homemade jam and artisan sausages. Or an evil muddy Mordor of industrial sheds and intensive factory farming. The stories in the middle, some feel, are often ignored or simply unnoticed.

Now, my Nuffield is not about pedalling a certain view or taking sides. I simply want to observe and analyse. I understand how the media works and I like to think I understand farming too. I see myself as something of a translator, treading a line between two very different worlds.

Hopefully, my travels will raise some interesting discussion, maybe even some learning opportunities for the farming world and the media. Is the pen mightier than the sward?

Farm Yarns

This blog will be my travelling companion. It is not my Nuffield report, nor is it in any way a factual record. It’s a place for my musings – the serious and downright silly, my impressions of people and places and reflections on the ups and downs of life on the road. I may write something I regret in a hotel room when I’m desperately homesick. It may be boring. I could be the only one who reads it. Whatever, it’s here!

 

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