Nuffield Farming Scholarships as seen through the eyes of Captain John S. Stewart, O.B.E., F.R.Ag.S. Written circa 1997.
Note: Captain John S. Stewart, OBE, FRAgS, served in The Royal Marines for 17 years and farmed at Weston Underwood in Buckinghamshire from 1957–1980 when back trouble forced his retirement. He was a Nuffield Scholar in 1964 and Winston Churchill Fellow in 1974. He was Director of Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, from 1969–1989, now being an Honorary Trust.
William Morris left school at 12 and started work in Oxford, repairing punctures of undergraduates’ bicycles. Quite early on, he showed considerable engineering skills, and soon constructed his own bicycle, and then a motorbike. The first Morris car followed, to found one of the great marques of the early twentieth century at Cowley.
Morris himself was a man of simple tastes, cantankerous but single minded in his love of Britain and the Commonwealth, and in his dislike of Socialism. In 1943 he seems to have had a gut feeling that the Socialists would come to power after the War, which was, at that time, at a particularly difficult stage, and wished to see his considerable fortune safeguarded from Government takeover.
He, by then, Lord Nuffield, had already given away more than £20m to various charitable bodies, from one of which I derived considerable benefit. The Nuffield Trust for the Forces of the Crown built Clubs for Officers and Other Ranks which were widely appreciated and later built recreational facilities and sailing boats for the Services. But in 1943 he endowed the Nuffield Foundation with 4 million five shilling Morris Motors shares, which were then standing at about 50 shillings each.
His financial advisor, Sir William Goodenough, who, at 24 years of age, had been Morris’s bank manager in Oxford, became Chairman of the Foundation, whose objects were “The advancement of health and social bell-being, and the care and comfort of the aged poor”. The early years were notable for the quality of distinguished persons who became trustees – men and women eminent in medicine and science – who included Professor Sir Frank Engledow, who was Drapers’ Professor of Agriculture at Cambridge. Goodenough had sat on several committees with Engledow and was impressed with his wide interests in the field of health, as well as agriculture. At the centre of the Nuffield web was Leslie Farrer-Brown, ex LSE and Government, who was to become the Foundation’s first Director at the age of 40, and who remained at the helm for 21 years.
There was provision made by the Foundation for the awarding of Fellowships and Scholarships in medicine, but it was the intervention of Jack Maclean, at the time Vice-President of the National Farmers’ Union, which precipitated the Foundation’s entry into agriculture. Goodenough, Engledow and Maclean found themselves sitting on a Government Committee to consider the post war future of agricultural education and, at an apparently very convivial lunch, Maclean floated the idea of scholarships for farmers to study overseas. His original idea was to reward those who had made conspicuous efforts in food production during the war, and emphasised the connection between the Foundation’s concern with health and agriculture with food. It would also enable them to pick out developments which had occurred during the war.
The idea fell on good ground and one or two prominent farmers were sent out on pilot studies. One of these, E.M. (Ted) Owens recalls being sent off to USA with a very broad brief to “look at dairy farming in the States”.
In 1947 the Foundation launched its first Nuffield Farming Scholars in the persons of Jane Bennett-Evans, daughter of the laird of the Black Mountains, who went to New Zealand to study hill farming, sheep and wool; John Rowsell, who went to USA and New Zealand to study Herbage Seeds and E.D. Stokes who studied cereals, dairying and grassland in USA and Canada. These were the pioneers. Their funding came from the Foundation, backed up by grants from the National Farmers’ Union to assist with farm management in their six months absence. All three produced reports which are models of clarity and resource, and blazed a trail which many were to follow.
The Assistant Director responsible for Fellowships was then General Bullen-Smith, who had commanded the 21st Highland Division at the end of the War. He, with Maclean and a small group of distinguished agriculturalists, formed a Selection committee, which chose the scholars, who were drawn from the whole of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
Numbers selected varied from the first three to eight in 1957. This was a particularly prolific period. Communications in the farming world were not especially good or swift and the scholars were able to bring back many ideas which were of lasting benefit to British farming.
I do not intend to mention many scholars by name as this would be both difficult in their selection and also invidious, but one or two achieved fame for their discoveries. Amongst them was W.R. (Dick) Merricks, a Romney marsh farmer who, on his tour to New Zealand, found Godfrey Bowen and was so impressed with his new shearing techniques that he brought him to Britain to demonstrate them. They are now standard throughout the world. Jill Hutchinson-Smith returned to pioneer the farm production of one of the finest blue cheeses ever made – a classic to rival Roquefort and Stilton.
Scholars did not always pursue the subject they had studied abroad. A.E. (Alan) Beckett’s visit to USA to look at dairying stimulated his business interests and management ideas which led him into the egg production field with great distinction and into the chairmanship of Midland Shires Farmers Ltd.
W. (Willy) Hamill’s study of dairying and grassland management changed the face of farming in Ulster. Finally in this remarkable, and by no means comprehensive, list came Geoffrey Sykes who studied poultry in USA. He was so impressed with what the Americans called “Broiler chickens” that he smuggled fertile hatching eggs into Britain hidden in the Kitbag of a US soldier, starting the Broiler industry in the UK.
For ten years the Foundation primed the pump and, in 1956, Maclean was told that if the scheme, by now well known and well respected, was to continue, the farming industry was to find the money to fund it. The challenge was taken up by the farming “establishment”, notably the four Farmers Unions, Milk Marketing Boards and others, and a fund was established under the control of the Foundation. Brigadier Kit Huxley had succeeded Bullen-Smith and Maclean had formed a Management Council made up of representatives of fund – providing organisations. Selection of scholars continued as before and around eight scholars were selected each year. Air travel was now available and tours were shortened somewhat – more could now be achieved in a shorter time.
In 1960 R.J. (John) Cyster was awarded a scholarship to study hops in USA and Canada. Cyster, on his return, was asked to represent the Hops Marketing Board on the Management Council. This appointment was to prove significant several years later.
My own scholarship, to study beef production in Europe, came in 1964 and being already a member of the Council of the NFU, I was asked to represent the Union on the management Council in 1965. The two of us were the only Scholars and the Council and the importance of this will be seen later.
David Yonge had succeeded Huxley as Fellowships Advisor and acted as secretary to the Management Council. The Annual Meeting of 1968 was to prove momentous, for after the routine reports, Yonge dropped the bombshell that the Foundation felt it was no longer able to administer the Farming Scholarships. Expressions of regret were accompanied by comments from the majority of members that “we have had a good run”, and that this was the “end of the line”. Commander Latham who represented the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers did not support this view, and was immediately backed by Cyster and myself. We were adamant that the scheme had a great deal more mileage left in it and after a great deal of persuasion, Maclean, as Chairman, suggested that, in response to the obvious enthusiasm of the two scholars, they should be asked to set up an organisation to continue the awards.
Our first task was to appoint a Secretary, and this duty landed in my lap. The second task was to make the move from the Foundation legal. To this end the Foundation’s solicitor, Ernest Gowers, met Maclean and myself and together we drew up a Draft Constitution calling ourselves the United Kingdom Farming Scholarships Trust. The exclusion of the word “Nuffield” from the title was intentional since it was felt that, in the eyes of many potential donors, the Nuffield name appeared to represent a bottomless pit of money and was likely to deter them from subscribing.
The first move was to appoint four Trustees, and these were Jack Maclean as Chairman with Sir Richard Trehane, then Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board, Commander Latham of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, and myself.
It was decided to continue to use the Management Council as governing body, and to add to its membership as further donors came along. The Foundation was asked, and consented, to allow the Director and Fellowships Advisor to become full member of the Council in order to safeguard the Foundation’s interests and to continue the relationship now established.
The affairs of the new Trust were run, at first, from a small office in Agriculture House, given rent free by the NFU and, using a generous grant from the Foundation, a lady was engaged for secretarial work. The frequent presence of myself, then a busy farmer, in London – often two or three days a week – soon proved too wearing and too costly in terms of travel and the office was moved to my farm office at Weston Underwood and a local secretary engaged. I could thus keep full control and work at my convenience. An honorarium of £300 was paid.
It soon became obvious that the administrative grant from the Foundation would not last much longer and more money was needed. A number of charitable organisations were approached and Special Awards, each contributing 10% of the award to administration, were set up on behalf of the Jack Wright memorial Trust; the Studley College Trust; the British Eggs Marketing Board (R & E) Trust, the Eggs Authority; the John Oldacre Foundation and the Trehane Trust. Jack Wright was a scholar who had studied irrigation and who introduced the concept of spray irrigation to UK, later forming his own company – Wright Rain Ltd. His tragic and early death in a plane crash in Mozambique led to his friends forming the Memorial Trust.
Sir Richard Trehane, who for many years was Chairman of the Milk Marketing Board and who represented them on the Management Council, retired with great honour and a Trust was formed which offered three awards in the milk sector, both to farmers and the trade. This was the beginning of a significant departure from a “Farmers only” policy up to that point and was to allow into the scheme “persons in a position to influence farmers and growers”.
In 1970 Maclean was taken ill, and decided to resign as Chairman. We both agreed that an obvious choice to succeed him was John Cyster, and he and I known in the Trust as the “two Johns”, ran the Trust’s affairs, meeting usually for breakfast each week in London and being back on our farms by midday.
In 1974 we decided to bring in another helper and found in Geoffrey Ballard, a scholar who had extensive business interests of his own, as well as being Chairman of MSF Ltd and the NFU Mutual. He was appointed Vice-Chairman and was used as sounding board by the two of us.
At this time we published a Scholars’ Directory, after a great deal of research among our scholars. It listed scholars by year of award and showed their subject, countries visited and current farming interests. These little booklets contributed a great deal to the preparation of tours by new scholars and were especially valuable to the Overseas Scholars (qv). They were reissued each year and were a necessary prelude to the formation of the Nuffield Scholar’ Association (NSA). In 1972 the NSA held its first Winter Conference on the Tuesday of Smithfield Week at the Strand Palace Hotel to which 120 scholars and wives came and when scholars of 1971 presented their reports with slides. The Winter Conference has been a feature of every year since and last year (1995) was combined with the AGM of the Council.
In the late ‘70’s I had an opportunity to meet HRH The Duke of Gloucester, who farmed at Barnwell not far from me, and asked him if he would be willing to take on the role of Patron of the Trust. Happily he agreed and has since involved himself quite deeply in the affairs of the Trust. To mark his acceptance we decided to hold a Dinner at Grosvenor House at which he was the principal guest. Over 200 Scholars, wives and guests attended with a Royal Marines orchestra playing during dinner.
In 1976 also, it became apparent that in order to fulfil its role the Trust would have to have a larger income and, with the advice of Craigmyle Ltd who were professional fund raisers, we formed an Appeal Committee and asked Lord Walston – past Labour Minister of Agriculture – to chair it. The Appeal was called the “Golden Key” Appeal and Craigmyle produced a comprehensive list of possible donors. Each member of the committee took responsibility for those persons or organisations where they had personal influence, and after aiming to raise £150,000 almost £180,000 was raised, some as cash and some as seven year covenants. This gave the Trust a firm base of investments from the income from which General Awards were made backed up by covenant income.
Selection of Scholars
Scholars have been selected by a very prestigious Selection Committee ever since 1947, and the experience is one which has made a lasting impact upon us all!. The Committee is assisted when selecting for the Special and Regional Awards by representatives of the donors, and the whole process is carried out in March. Scholars are briefed both as a group and individually often at Wye College, and, since 1984 have travelled to Brussels as a group for a few days of instruction in EU affairs and mechanisms.
It has always been the policy of the Selection Committee to stretch the candidates and many have been startled by the range of questioning. The logic of this questioning is worthy of comment. What we were looking for was, firstly, the potential to benefit from a Nuffield award and, secondly, evidence that the applicant was not merely interested in himself but in some wider contribution and responsibility. We were not just looking for someone who had technical proficiency. For example one applicant, a specialist grower, said that no way would he share any knowledge he gained; business was far too tough for that! He failed!.
A candidate who, when arriving in America, was asked “what is really going on in Northern Ireland” should not reply that “Its nothing to do with me, I am studying calabrese”. Nuffield Scholars must be knowledgeable and fully conscious of the wider world. Selectors have always been selected themselves for their ability to probe into the deepest recesses of the candidates characters, and none was more adept at this than Professor Gordon Dickson. His question “Are you a committed Christian? If not why not? Answer in one minute!,” struck one candidate almost dumb. One can understand the candidate to study potato farming in France, being grilled about what steps he would take if appointed Minister of Agriculture that afternoon, wondering what was the relevance of the question!
Almost every candidate, during my term as Director, left the room certain that he or she had performed dismally, to weep on the shoulder of my secretary.
Looking back on that period I can only think of two or three candidates who should have been awarded scholarships, who failed to gain the selectors approval. Similarly only a very few of those selected have failed to make some mark, be it ever so small in some cases, on the agricultural scene, locally or nationally.
In 1950 the Nuffield Foundation started a parallel scheme in several countries of the British Commonwealth, under which farmers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Kenya, The Rhodesias and Tanzania, came to Britain for a study period of six months. In the early days scholars travelled by sea and when in UK by train and bicycle. Later developments in transport brought them by air and the Milk Marketing Board provided small cars for their use.
On their arrival scholars were allocated “First Farmer Hosts” by the NFU to whom they went for their first two or three weeks here. The hosts and guests were not always well matched, as noted by the Australian scholar who was sent to a Welsh speaking farmer who had no English. Being myself on the NFU Development and Education Committee which organised the hosting, I was able to exert an influence on the process and gradually took it over, using UK Nuffield Scholars as hosts and linking the two schemes together.
In 1976, the Foundation required the Commonwealth countries who were still in the Overseas scheme, namely Australia, Canada and New Zealand (the African countries of what were then Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia having dropped out for political reasons after their independence, and S. Rhodesia through UDI), to fund their own awards from their own resources.
All three countries took up the challenge, but, with the Foundation relinquishing all control, a vacuum was left in the management and control of the Overseas scholars. In response to requests from Australia, the UKFST, as it then was, undertook responsibility for arranging the UK programmes but there was still no overall co-ordination of the rules and conditions of the Scheme.
In agreement with George Wilson, who chaired the Australian Committee, a Conference was called in London, attended by Wilson himself; Charles Hilgendorf from New Zealand, both national chairmen, and Gary Carlson the secretary of the Canadian committee, as well as the UKFST Officers. A week of discussions with considerable hospitality from the High Commissioners concluded with an agreed set of conditions.
The principal result was that UKFST would manage the Overseas scholars when in Britain. All scholars would be selected and funded in their own countries and would spend at least six weeks in Britain for a corporate period when all scholars took part in a comprehensive acquaint programme arranged by UKFST.
Plainly scholars in some specialist subjects would not spend their whole six months in Britain which did not perhaps have the expertise in their chosen subjects. For instance, New Zealanders studying their lamb export market would need to travel extensively in Europe and a pineapple farmer would need to travel to tropical areas of the world.
UKFST, however, held no overall control and final authority was vested in the three yearly conference of national organisers to be held in participating countries by rota. The first conference was held in Australia in 1980 and in addition to the organisers, all Nuffield Scholars worldwide were invited as observers. A superb programme was laid on by the hosts. Subsequent Conferences have been held in Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and the most recent in Queensland.
As a result of taking over the responsibility of the Overseas (Now called “Visiting”) Scholars and having achieved the objective of distinguishing between the UKFST and the Nuffield Foundation, it was decided to change the name to the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust.
The Overseas Scheme was by no means static. In 1981 the situation in S. Rhodesia had been resolved and the country became Zimbabwe. They immediately asked to rejoin the scheme and a Trust in the name of David Spain, (who was killed in a car accident) was set up. The Conference readily agreed to their re-entry and in 1982 the first Zimbabwean scholar came to Britain with the group.
At the request of the Conference, Overseas scholars were obliged to spend four weeks on the continent and it was decided that, as part of their joint programme, they should visit the Paris Agricultural Show and follow that with a few days of visits to French farms, before spending three days in Brussels being briefed at a high level in the working of the EEC. During the second of these visits John Cyster and I visited all the representatives to EEC of the principal European members, to sound them out on the possibility of their joining the scheme.
Most of the representatives felt that their farmers, mostly being one man operators, would be unable to afford to spend six months away from their farms, but the French representative – M. Collet – was vastly enthusiastic and went off hot foot to Paris to discuss the matter with his boss – M. Clavel of the Bureau d’Agriculture. A few weeks later we were summoned to Paris for a meeting with M. Clavel and the Chairman of Credit Agricole – the French farmers bank. The latter agreed to fund one scholar per year and procedures were agreed for selection and briefing. Obviously the main pre-requisite was a working knowledge of English and so the selection committee transacted its business in English, with the Director of NFST in the chair.
The Conference readily agreed to the input from Europe and the first French scholar joined the group in 1982. This leavening of the scheme has proved one of its greatest successes. Discussions are in progress about the admission of other countries but there is general feeling “Down under” that the intimate nature of the scheme might be destroyed if it were to be enlarged.
Looking back over twenty years as secretary and Director of the Trust, I can say, with hand on heart, that the Trust has given a tremendous boost to World agriculture in its broadest sense.
The search for leaders in the industry, in the Technical, Commercial or Political fields of agriculture, has been rewarded with fine crops of Scholars who have made their mark. In Australia and New Zealand the political and commercial aspects have been dominant with so many leaders coming from the ranks of Nuffield Scholars that the Nuffield influence in each country is enormous. In such countries, where technical know how in stock and grassland management is very advanced, it is, perhaps, understandable that less emphasis has been on the Technical. This is not to say that there have been no technical achievements. The turf industry in Australia originated in the scholarship to Bill Casimaty who has built a little empire stretching even back to UK. Many scholars returned home with “agencies” for UK and European products and one at least bought a new farm on the receipts from eartags.
More surprising, perhaps, is the return from UK scholars. In early days scholars returned home full of ideas which, because of poor communications, had not yet reached us. It is perhaps understandable, therefore, that most of the dramatic new ideas came in the early days, but recently there has been a resurgence and it has been encouraging to see returning scholars using the ideas gained abroad, to further their businesses.
What is most encouraging is the fact that a succession of able leaders in the Trust, have nailed their colours to the mast in the search for the very best scholars, and in the demand that standards be maintained at the highest level. There is no substitute for quality. Perhaps we are awarding too many scholarships for a shrinking industry to sustain and perhaps too many of the awards are not going to practising farmers and growers, but whilst the quality is maintained and the money available no harm can come.
If the 50th Anniversary of the Trust is a good enough reason for reminiscence, and, yes, for congratulation also, then it must also be a moment for reflection and reassessment. Times do indeed change and the agricultural revolution of the past half century has surpassed anything that has gone before. Nuffield too has changed and adapted and will continue to do so. More than anything, it must build on success. That success resides in the character of those who are proud to call themselves “Nuffields”.
There are those who regard the award of a Scholarship as an end in itself. A tour made, experienced absorbed, and a return home to practice. But for the majority it is, and should be, much more than that. It should be for a lifetime – of learning, of leading, and of giving in return for what one has taken.
One of the encouraging developments, which I initiated, had been the formation of the Study Groups, in which Scholars of a shared common interest come together to explore and discuss matters of concern to their sector of the industry. The first was the Dairy Study group whose first meeting was attended by the Director of ADAS and which explored Dairy Research in depth. Later Groups were formed for Beef and Sheep; Poultry ( a group which travels the world – Japan and South Africa and USA); Arable Crops; and the Moneymakers. Of course individuals gain commercial knowledge but, just as important, they can give something back to their industry and remain an essential part of the Nuffield family.
There are questions of organisation that will have to be answered. How should we react to one of the really fundamental changes that have taken place in farming – that of the enormous reduction in manpower? Not only are there many fewer farmers, but, for the first time, there are fewer farmworkers than farmers. There are large numbers of farmers who employ no-one and, in consequence, find it difficult, if not impossible, to get away for the two months minimum. Yet, very probably, they are the very ones who would benefit most from such a period of stimulation.
For eligibility, there has already been a substantial shift away from just farmers to much wider definition, to include many who are employed in the wider agriculture. How far should that go? Are we indeed awarding too many scholarships at around eighteen a year? Should there be some sharper definition of the subject to be studied to take account of the shrinking world of agriculture, the agri-policies of GATT and the entry of Eastern Europe to the KU? Should the groupings of what were the old Commonwealth countries plus France be expanded? Bringing in the French scholar, I count as one of my most successful achievements. Should other countries such as South Africa, be encouraged to come or do we risk harmful dilution?
For certain there will be many other knotty questions to be debated – equally certain is the fact that, in Nuffield, we have the structure, and, far more important, the individuals, who can and will carry the organisation forward and build on the achievements of the last half century.
It is often said that agriculture is less important than it used to be – or rather that its main duty is to conserve the environment, whatever that may be taken to mean. We should be in no doubt that not only must man eat to live but that, as mankind continues to increase and multiply, food production worldwide will become of even greater significance. And, moreover, that production must be both civilised and sustainable in the widest sense of the word. Nuffield can and will continue to play a very important role in doing just that.