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Resilient Walnut Farming in the Face of Climate Change: Insights from Nuffield Scholar Dr Miriam Villen King



11 July 2024


"Adopting regenerative agricultural practices not only helps mitigate climate impacts but also improves the resilience and profitability of walnut farms. Through collaboration and innovation, we can ensure a sustainable future for our industry,"

2023 Nuffield Scholar, Miriam Villen King



Miriam Villen King, a 2023 Nuffield Scholar and Chief Scientist at Stahmann Webster, sponsored by Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP), has embarked on an extensive journey to explore sustainable farming methods that can help Australian walnut farmers tackle the growing challenges posed by climate change. Her research highlights the critical need for sustainable and resilient farming methods to mitigate these impacts and ensure food security.

Miriam's report emphasizes that unpredictable weather patterns, extreme events like droughts and storms, and warmer winters are significantly affecting crop yields and quality. Specifically, the walnut industry faces increasing challenges such as insufficient chill units and extreme weather events, which threaten crop yields, nut quality, and orchard viability. Legislative changes in the EU regarding the use of certain chemicals also pose potential risks to Australian walnut cultivation and exports.


A key strategy Miriam explores is regenerative agriculture (RA), which enhances soil health, supports biodiversity, and reduces chemical inputs. Through her travels to countries like Italy, Poland, and the United States, Miriam examined successful integration of sustainable practices in walnut farming. European case studies, such as Italy's Valier Farm, showcase resilience despite strict regulations, demonstrating the practical benefits of RA.

Miriram Villen King and Tessa Dimond at the National Ploughing Championships in Ireland

"Regenerative agriculture is not just about sustaining our current practices; it's about improving them and reversing some of the damage that has been done," Miriam explains. "By focusing on soil health and biodiversity, we can create a more resilient farming system that is better equipped to handle climate variability."


Miriam's research also highlights the immediate need for improved soil health practices, precise nutrient management, and technological advancements to foster resilience while waiting for climate-resilient and pest-resistant tree cultivars to become commercially viable. She provides actionable strategies for farmers to align with increasingly stringent global standards while maintaining productivity.

Molly Villen King at the International Nut Conference in London, England


Reflecting on her Nuffield Scholarship journey, Miriam says, "This experience has broadened my mind, challenged me in ways I never expected, and connected me with an inspiring global network of agricultural professionals. The insights gained have significantly impacted my career and my approach to sustainable farming."


She adds, "The opportunity to learn from farmers around the world who are facing similar challenges has been invaluable. It's clear that collaboration and sharing knowledge is key to advancing our industry."

Miriram Villen King and family on her individual travel in Europe in 2023


Miriam Villen King will present her research findings at the 2024 National Conference in Launceston, Tasmania, from 2-4 September, along with 30 other returning Nuffield scholars. This event will provide a platform to share insights and strategies that can help Australian walnut farmers navigate global trade complexities and secure their position as leading producers of high-quality, sustainable walnuts.


Miriam Villen King's report can be found here

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