Agricultural development students visit East of England for presentation ceremony and inspirational farm field visits
It was a busy week for recipients of the Marshal Papworth Fund scholarship programme as they headed to Cambridgeshire, the home of their organisers, the East of England Agricultural Society, for the annual Student Certificate Presentation Ceremony at Haddon Church, near Peterborough, and farm field visits to Seven Wells Farm and Mee Blueberries – both near Oundle – and Park Farm Thorney, near Peterborough, which turned out to be a real knowledge exchange experience between the students and farmers.
The 21 students, comprising 15 sustainable agriculture students and six Masters scholars, were delighted to be joined at the presentation by the Fund’s patron, the Rt. Reverend Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely, as well as the Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Her Honour Mrs Gillian Beasley, and a congregation of East of England Agricultural Society members, Marshal Papworth Fund committee members, representatives of the Marshal Papworth Fund’s partner charities, and local farmers and food producers.
The 15 sustainable agriculture students from Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, were selected by the charity partners of the Marshal Papworth Fund, including ADRA Ghana, Hands Around The World, Leprosy Mission, Ripple Effect, Teyapi4Peace and Tree Aid to study a bespoke 10-week practical course at Harper Adams University, one of the leading agricultural and horticultural universities in the country. The six Masters scholars are in the final semester of their studies at Harper Adams University, the University of Reading, and Writtle University College.
Following the special presentation ceremony, it was a two-day whistle-stop tour of local farms, starting at Seven Wells Farm, Stoke Doyle, near Oundle, with Robert and Sally Knight. With a history at Seven Wells Farm dating back to the 1930s, the Knight family run a mixed arable and beef enterprise encompassing 2,700acres; with 500 acres of grassland home to a 300 cow suckler unit, and 2,200acres of wheat, barley, oilseed rape and beans. The farm entered the Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme in 2021. Across the cattle, the enterprise has become honed to ensure that homebred heifers are served by the bull at 18 months, whilst all other heifers and steers are sold deadweight at 17-20 months to Dunbia, who supply retailer Marks and Spencer and restaurant chain McDonalds.
Speaking after the visit, Sally Knight said: “Hosting a Marshal Papworth visit gives us the opportunity to show the students how our family farm is adapting to the changing agricultural climate and the challenges that we are facing. A visit is never long enough when you have such enthusiastic visitors! Despite the differences in our farming systems, I was enlightened by the students’ curiosity and vision of how they could relate their studies to their farming practices at home and to share their knowledge with the wider community.”
The following day saw the group head to Mee Blueberries, at Nassington, near Oundle – a 700-acre farm run by Peter and Zoe Mee, with their children Charlie and Emily, with a diversification business that was recently recognised in the 2022 British Farming Awards as Family Farming Business of the Year. In 2014, Peter and Zoe knew that for the business to be able to support the next generation, it had to diversify. The solution they came up with was blueberries, planting 15 hectares under polytunnels and installing a brand-new blueberry processing facility in 2019, with the freshly picked fruit now found on the shelves of leading supermarkets. Recent adaptations have seen the family freeze any imperfect fruit at the time of picking to make a range of products that they sell direct to customers online, including sparkling blueberry wine!
Emily Mee said: “This was the most impactful tour I have ever done, and I am incredibly inspired by your students. It is so refreshing to meet people with so much passion for the industry. We have never had people ask so many questions and understand the process as well as your group and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you very much for asking us to be a part of their time here as it has had an extremely positive impact for us as well as them!”
The visits, arranged by the Marshal Papworth Fund and East of England Agricultural Society, concluded with a visit to Michael Sly at Park Farm, Thorney, near Peterborough.
Michael Sly commented: “Here at Park Farm, we were proud to host this year’s Marshal Papworth students. After an introduction to our farm, we took the students on a ‘farm safari’ tour, where we spent some time discussing our sugar production (from sugar beet), as a contrast to sugar cane, which is grown in many of the students’ home countries, before looking at our mustard crop for condiment use (one of the few spices grown in the UK), pulses and marrowfat peas, given the importance of pulses in diets and rotation of crops. We also looked at wheat, maize and potatoes, including water management of the Fens and the Nene washes. One highlight was seeing a family of three Eurasian Cranes in one of the fields; noting that the crane is the national bird of Uganda.”
“Farmers the world over are a family with a shared and fundamental interest in the global climate and food production. By coming together in this way, we can share important knowledge and empower each other.”
Isaac Vanderpuye, one of the 2023 short course scholars, said: “All three farms have diverse activities, backgrounds and resources within their establishments. Most importantly they all have a sustainable agricultural system embedded within their businesses, taking into consideration the effects of climate change. I believe the knowledge we have gained from this course and field visits will help transform our communities and the country at large.”
Course leads, Edmore Mashatise and Mitch Crook expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the farm businesses that hosted the group on behalf of Harper Adams University. “The tours they gave where all excellent, and made especially so by the obvious enthusiasm and passion that they have for agriculture and their enterprises which they shared with the Marshal Papworth Scholars and ourselves, who benefitted as much from the visits as the students did. It was very insightful for the group to witness first hand very different but also sustainable and profitable farm businesses that had elements of resilience, farm diversification and value addition.”
The Marshal Papworth Fund provides scholarships for students from developing countries, including year-long Masters MSc scholarships to leading UK agricultural universities and colleges, and this bespoke 10-week short course, developed with Harper Adams University. To date, 243 students have been educated at UK agricultural universities as part of the Marshal Papworth Fund scholarship schemes.