Growing Innovation – May 2017 edition

“My Nuffield Scholarship has been eye-opening”

Grower and Nuffield Scholar: Matt Abbott from Rabbit Organics, QLD

With a passion for growing and a thirst for knowledge, Matt Abbott is a keen Nuffield Scholar out to make a difference in Australia’s banana industry.

What is the Nuffield Scholarship program?

Matt’s Nuffield Scholarship was awarded in 2016, funded by Hort Innovation using the banana R&D levy and contributions from the Australian Government. “The Nuffield program is all about scholars increasing practical farming knowledge, building management skills, and studying topics of relevance to their industry,” Matt said. Participants head overseas to study agriculture practices in different parts of the world, and then bring that knowledge home to share with others.

As an organic banana grower, Matt’s scholarship has a focus on organic farming and sustainable practices here and overseas. He’s also been keen to look at Panama Tropical Race 4 (TR4) and the varieties and practices used to combat it, as well as product branding and marketing for both organic and conventionally grown fruit.

“Before I became a Nuffield Scholar I’d heard other scholars talk at industry events about how eye-opening and worthwhile the experience was. It seemed fantastic, but I never thought I could take time away from the family business to take part myself. How wrong I was,” Matt said.

“What’s really stood out for me is that, as a grower, you sort of get stuck in your own little world. But getting off the farm is so valuable. You get out of your bubble and it really changes the way you look at things, plus it opens up opportunities and ideas you and others in your industry can move forward with.”

Lessons from international agriculture

As part of his Nuffield Scholarship, Matt took part in the Global Focus Program (GFP) during June, July and August last year. “The GFP involved six weeks of travelling in a group of about 10 scholars to see growing practices and technologies from around the world up close. It was a real snapshot of international agriculture. I took part in a program that went to India, Qatar, France, Turkey and parts of America – and it really put things in perspective for me,” Matt said.

“One thing I’d definitely share with other growers is how, when you look at what’s going on overseas, Australia is right up there in horticulture. We’re tracking really well with our innovation, with our practices and with our knowledge. It was so interesting to understand just how much we have going on here. It also reinforced how lucky we are in Australia with the resources, land and opportunities we have.”

Matt became particularly interested in understanding sustainable water use overseas. “Water is an issue everywhere in the world, that much was very clear,” he said. “I’m looking into this more with my personal studies, leading up to the completion of my Nuffield project this year.”

Matt will present the findings from his Nuffield Scholarship project at the 2017 Nuffield Australia National Conference, to be held in Darwin this September. He will also provide information directly to banana growers at industry events and through industry communication channels.

Learning and inspiring together

As well as developing knowledge and skills for scholars and their industries back home, the Nuffield program is also about forming connections and sharing ideas.

“I’ve now formed close bonds with scholars and people from all over the world, from all kinds of industries. This will really help with the sharing of ideas and information,” Matt said. “Forming connections like these can give you the confidence to try new things, and have a play around with ideas in your business. You can talk through ideas, get reassurance, and be inspired – for me it’s reinforced the idea that having a go doesn’t mean you’ll succeed every time, but sooner or later you’ll hit on something good. You can’t shy away from trying to be innovative.”

Matt also says growers shouldn’t shy away from taking part in their industry. “It’s important that banana growers know they can be involved in the direction the industry takes,” he said.

 

Want your own chance to learn from the international community? Applications for 2018 Nuffield Scholarships are now open, with Hort Innovation supporting two scholars: one from the banana industry, and one from the vegetable industry. Learn more and apply by June 16, 2017 at www.nuffield.com.au/scholarships/.

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