A group of 11 international Masters students from Africa and Asia visited the Fens this week as part of their agricultural scholarships funded by the Marshal Papworth Fund, where a day with Michael Sly at his 1,750ha Park Farm, Thorney, focused on the critical role that the use of the latest technology, effective crop rotations, management of the 158 miles of in-field land drains, and incorporation of environmental conservation areas play in managing a successful farm enterprise in the unique Fen area.
The students, who are all approaching the end of their Masters scholarships funded by agricultural education charity Marshal Papworth Fund this year, spent the day with Michael Sly and his team, who took time out of the busy harvest period to host the students on this beneficial study visit. Michael, who is also chairman of English Mustard Growers Ltd and was the winner of the Farming Champion of the Year at the Farmers Weekly Awards 2016, told the students: “We treat environmental strips as part of our rotation here, with over 50ha of the farm dedicated to conservation and contributing 51 tons of pollen for pollinators on our farm.”
Alongside these environmental areas, which include skylark plots and wildflower meadow strips, Michael also took the students through the arable rotation, which includes 1-2 years of winter wheat, depending on the blackgrass burden in each field, alongside oilseed rape (OSR), barley, peas, beans, mustard and sugar beet, whilst 100ha of maize is grown to supply a local dairy enterprise five minutes down the road.
Jenica Dizon from the Philippines is coming to the end of her Marshal Papworth funded MSc course in Water and Sanitation for Development at Cranfield University. She said: “The visit to Park Farm was an eye-opening opportunity to see that farming can be a profitable industry that benefits the whole community and environment if it is done efficiently and sustainably. Whilst my course is in water and sanitation, the visits that the Marshal Papworth Fund organizes as part of our agricultural experience in the UK are always inspirational – there is always something we can learn about farming more sustainably.”
Park Farm also opens its gates each year for the national Open Farm Sunday enterprise. Michael said: “We are very proud to have welcomed in excess of 75,000 people to the farm through Open Farm Sunday since its inception in 2006. I would really encourage the Marshal Papworth students to remember the importance of working with the local farming community in their home countries for collaborative projects, whether that’s training sessions, trial plots or community co-operatives; what we have created with our farming neighbours through Open Farm Sunday is testament to what can be achieved when we work together.”
Currently studying for Masters degrees at Harper Adams University, the Royal Agricultural University (Cirencester), Aberystwyth University, University of Reading and Cranfield University, covering degrees in subjects including Livestock, International Development, Water and Sanitation, Environment and Food Security, the scholars were impressed by the farm’s use of the latest technology, including a new 2,000T grain store and drying mechanism, as well as the Claas combine harvester with GPS, whilst commending Michael and his team’s commitment to farming with the environment in mind.
This year, the Marshal Papworth Fund has welcomed its 200th student, working across developing countries to overcome issues including food insecurity, poverty and climate change in a sustainable way. Whilst in the UK, the students attend a number of visits to farms and other agricultural enterprises, that allow them to see, first-hand, the techniques and management practices UK farmers use to build sustainable and profitable businesses. Allied with their Masters studies, these practical learnings enable the students to go back to their home countries with both policy design and practical implementation ideas that can benefit the farmers in their own communities.