A Canadian Nuffield Scholar Discovers More Than Just Answers to His Topic

Steve-LarocqueLloyd Alexander, a famous American author, once said “We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” I thought how true of this Nuffield experience I’ve been so richly blessed with. In fact, how many of us have found answers to questions we weren’t even searching for? Did you come home with a better understanding of what really matters to you? I did. I went out in search of answers to precision farming technologies. I came home with a greater understanding of the world around me, my role as a father, husband and the direction of our business. You know, I don’t ever recall writing down the questions to the answers I discovered. I’d like to share some of those answers with you now.

How many of us remember driving through new and beautiful landscapes thinking I can’t believe I’m here. All alone, no cell phone coverage, just time to think, drive and be inspired by Creation as you make your way to the next destination. Oh, and reminding yourself to stay on the left side of the bloody road, Canuck! It’s amazing how one phone call to a perfect stranger can lead to warm hospitality, engaging conversations and new friendships. The first stop on my independent study was New Zealand and then, for the second time in twelve months, I was off to Australia.

I learned three important things about my study topic, precision farming technologies, that I could take home and apply to our farming system. First, precision technology and economies of scale are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to improve profitability through scale and precision technology like variable rate fertilizer, gypsum, lime, controlled traffic tram lines and inter-row seeding. Second, I discovered the little things in our production system we could manage better. Things like compaction, leaf senescence, capturing solar energy through seeding direction, seeding rates, fungicides and soil amendments. Finally, after staying with the current and former Guinness World Record Holders for wheat yield, I learned that their record wheat crops were grown on pea stubble, seeded two years after grass breaking, and on six-inch row spacing. Nitrogen, growth regulators and fungicides were applied at the same growth stages on soils you’d never think capable based on soil test results. Oh, and they both spent a fraction more producing fifty percent higher yields than the average. Spending time with two gentlemen so passionate about grain farming was the highlight of my trip.

Now, the answers to questions I never thought I was searching for. The first one is home. As a husband and father of a Nuffield baby, born 15 weeks early on March 28th, 2008 during my Global Focus Tour, I’ve spent a lot more time with family since I came home and will continue to make them a priority. I realized how easy it was to sacrifice family with the excuse of “work” to shoulder the blame. Next, the plans for growing our agronomy, farm, publishing and carbon offset businesses came clear to me somehow. Perhaps it was the ability to stop thinking about work for a while and occupy my mind with understanding others and their successes, challenges and futures in agriculture. Perhaps it was the fresh air in that remote end of the world along the southern tip of Western Australia. Whatever it was, I am very thankful for the opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

I still have another three weeks of travel planned before I hand in my report in November. I have four more record holders to visit and several new Nuffield friends to stop in and see. I sure look forward to stimulating and challenging conversations about agriculture and the world around us. For those of you who are interested, I offer my weekly publication for free to Nuffield Scholars. Beyond Agronomy News is a crop production and grain market e-newsletter written by yours truly. If you’d like to be added to the subscriber list, just drop me an e-mail at steveatbeyondagronomydotcom.

Have a great year.

Sincerely,

Steve Larocque,
2007 Canadian Nuffield Scholar