Applications for the Nuffield Scholarship – supported by Wine Australia – are now open. We speak to 2019 recipient Richard Leask, about what he learnt – and how it can be applied to the Australian wine sector.
Apply for a 2021 Nuffield Scholarship at nuffield.com.au
Richard Leask traversed the globe last year exploring regenerative agriculture systems and has returned with a clear and simple message for the wine sector: improve your soil and the rest will follow.
‘Managing and improving soil structure and health – and by extension the soil microbial ecosystem – should be a major focus for the wine sector’, Richard said.
‘The potential benefits are many and diverse – from improved water infiltration and water holding capacity, to improved nutrient availability and reduced input costs.’
Richard was awarded a Wine Australia-supported Nuffield Scholarship to research best-practice regenerative farming systems across the wine sector.
His research focused on understanding how to successfully transition to regenerative farming from more conventionally managed systems. He explored the key drivers that initiate transitions, the role and availability of education and training, and any associated impacts on farm management and resourcing requirements.
Bastien Leduc (L) and Richard (R) in Paso Robles, USA.
Richard’s personal study topic saw him crisscross the world, looking at a wide range of agricultural systems in Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America (USA).
‘I was interested in what we as a sector could learn from arable cropping, pasture livestock systems, intensive horticulture, organic vegetable production and forestry management. I looked at everything from large corporate operations to small boutique businesses and university research farms’, Richard said.
Stage 1 of Richard’s scholarship included a scholar’s conference in Iowa, USA, and the Global Focus Program – which involved 10 Nuffield scholars from different countries visiting 6 countries over 7 weeks looking at all things relevant to agriculture.
Richard pictured in a corn research plot in Burgundy, France.
‘Our group visited Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, France, Canada and the USA. It was an intense but extremely rewarding part of the program as you get a much greater understanding of global agriculture, and also form lifelong bonds with other agriculture professionals from around the globe.’
Richard’s advice to others considering applying for a Nuffield Scholarship is to go for it.
‘A Nuffield Scholarship is a once in a lifetime opportunity to view and gain a better understanding of global agriculture and our place in it. It forces you to get out of your business, tests your beliefs and biases and generally gets you out of your comfort zone. It is an opportunity to become part of a global network of agricultural professionals that are not only beneficial to your project, your daily business and an opportunity to form lifelong friendships.’
Getting started – a snapshot look at the principles of regenerative agriculture
Regenerative farming systems incorporate many practices that are used in other more holistic farming systems, such as organic and biodynamic farming. They are not exclusively chemical free but rather look to minimise anything that does damage to soil carbon or soil microbial ecosystems.
According to Richard, regenerative agriculture consists of six major elements:
- balancing soil nutrition limitations
- keeping soil covered (with either living or decaying plant material)
- minimising soil disturbance (cultivation)
- increasing plant and microbial diversity
- incorporating living plant roots all year round, and
- integrating and managing livestock.
‘The aim is to incorporate all of these elements into your farming system if possible.’