Friday, 22 March 2013

Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference - Friday The Global Environment

Up bright and early on Friday morning we headed out to VineTech Canada to meet Wes Wiens.  Wes runs a great business producing vine stock for other vineyards to plant.  He has about 20 acres with over 1.7 million vine plants growing at at any one time. Usual vineyard planting will be about 1361/acre.  There were two main things I took away from our visit to Wes's farm, firstly the backbone of his business is made on producing quality vines.  These varieties are sourced from around the world, including Germany, France and the US.  He ships vines to the main wine producing areas in Canada namely, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario.  The vines are puzzle cut and then grafted onto rootstock before being planted out in the nursery usually for a year.  Wes sells most of the vines having been grown on under his control so there is less chance of them failing in the first year, again more work but quality ensured.  The second memory was how Wes looked after the 45 foreign workers employed during the busiest time of year.  Birthdays are recognised; and as many of the workers are foreign (Mexico and Bulgaria mainly), they are also encouraged to learn to read and write.
After a short bus ride we headed off around the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre which is a not for profit institute. A substantial amount of money is raised through commercial research and government funding. One of the major research projects currently underway is to increase the winter hardiness of roses 'out west'.  Another project that has born fruit was developing a new apple with funding generated through the Ontario Apple Growers.  The centre has a trained panel of tasters to have the ability to try out and benchmark new flavours, which meets up a couple of times a week.
Here's Steve Wilkins from New Zealand at the Vineland Research Institute.
The roses in the breeding programme that we saw were in greenhouses being marked with different tags depending on their genetics and the characteristics that were being identified. It is hoped that a new rose might be commercially available in 2018, which is a long time to wait for a winter hardy rose bush.
After lunch we had a great talk by Andrew Novakovi on the United States Farm Bill.  The farm bill was put in place as a support mechanism for farmers many years ago and is amended every 5 to 7 years.  The first Farm Bill was started by President Roosevelt following the stock market crash of 1929, at a time of the dust bowls in the mid west.  It's role was to set out the the responsibility of the government.  The farm bill looks after, wheat, corn (maize), grain sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton, rice, oilseeds, soybeans, sugar and peanuts.  The bill also spends money on nutrition, commodities and conservation.
Another aspect of the farm bill is for crop insurance where growers pay an area insurance policy.  This means that the income from the crop is secured so if your state goes into drought, then you are eligible to claim the value of insured crop.  This year between $20-$50 billion were paid out to US farmers due to the drought conditions! The US government knows that this level of subsidy payments can't continue but the farmers have a very strong voice when it comes to lobbying the politicians.  It will be interesting to see where the next negotiations go and how much money is available.
Jay Nutting was up after Andrew to talk about the role of the lobby in politics.  Jay is an Eisenhower Fellow a similar sort of scheme to Nuffield. Putting a point across is something we as industry need to do more of, no-one is going to do it for us.  Making local connections and being the 'go to' person who is straight forward and knowledgeable is what we, as Nuffield scholars need to do in our own communities and try to have influence over our own political masters.

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