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Newly announced Nuffield Scholar explores the future of family farming

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

08/09/2023

Anna Cotton is sixth generation on her family’s Tasmanian property, affording her a unique personal insight into how intergenerational farming families can build adaptable and resilient businesses that stand the test of time.

Yet, cautious of increasing regulations and red tape suppressing the global ag industry, how we evolve our Australian family farms into the future is a topic that has long piqued her interest.

And now, announced this week as one of 18 successful recipients of a 2024 Nuffield Scholarship, it’s a topic she can explore at length.

With the global agricultural industry at her disposal, 32-year-old Anna will now travel across various continents researching her chosen topic, 'The Future of the Family Farm. To Adapt, Build Resilience and Sustainability for the Future’.

Anna’s opportunity will be sponsored in full by Rabobank, and she’s thrilled to have the opportunity to gain global insights on how farming families can remain relevant going forward, given the increasing environmental, social and regulatory challenges.

The travel component of her scholarship begins in Canberra with the Australian Focus program, and from there to Brazil for the Contemporary Scholars Conference, an introductory and networking opportunity for all global scholars.

Anna intends to visit farmers across the UK, Europe, North America, Argentina, Uruguay and New Zealand, particularly in countries that are implementing strict farming policies.

“The UK has a large population of intergenerational farmers, many who have been on their land for hundreds of years, and I think it will be really fascinating to gain an understanding about how they continue to progress, particularly in the face of such stringent government policies.”

“For example, in the UK you can’t put an animal down without a vet, which would simply be impossible to apply on a large-scale Australian farm.”

Building a resilient and sustainable farming business

Together with her father Jack, Anna helps manage Kelvedon Estate, a 3,000 hectare picturesque property near Swansea on the East Coast of Tasmania.

She laughs that when her ancestors were granted the land 200 years ago, other farming families predicted they’d be broke within the decade trying to run an enterprise on what’s referred to as ‘Salt Lagoon’.

Yet two centuries later, the business has evolved and adapted, with each generation leaving its mark on the property.

Today the property runs 9,000 superfine merinos plus a nine hectare vineyard producing table Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – the move into viticulture a more recent business development.

With droughts a common occurrence on the east coast of Tasmania, Anna and her father have invested in centre pivot irrigation to help reduce the severity of droughts.

She said there is also scope to increase water storage and area suitable for irrigation.

“Traditionally we had a Hereford stud and grew seeds for cereal and veggie crops but the numbers just didn’t stack up, and after a run of dry seasons Dad planted one hectare of grapes in 1998, which grew to nine and now we’re looking to further expand this aspect of the business.”

It’s this exact adaptability she believes will underpin the success of future generations, and while the goal posts may be shifting when it comes to managing regulation, a changing of the guard also represents enormous opportunity – particularly when it comes to sustainability and animal welfare outcomes.

“Across our property we’ve now ceased mulesing – we could see the writing on the wall, and wanted to be on the front foot,” she explains.

“This is our fourth year breeding a larger framed and plainer bodied sheep, and while there is still progress to be made, we are already seeing the impact of our breeding decisions.”

The Cottons have also received government funding to cordon off land in perpetuity for flora and fauna – namely the conservation of the Swift Parrot and Blue Gum regeneration.

She said the family was always looking for ways to diversify, and make the most out of their parcel of land.

“They’re not making any more farming land so we need to be able to do more with less, and stay relevant as a business, and now thanks to Nuffield Australia and Rabobank I’m excited to identify opportunities that I can potentially adapt and apply on our own family farm.”

Second time lucky for this newly announced Nuffield Scholar

Having missed out on a 2023 Nuffield Scholarship, Anna remained unperturbed applying again for a 2024 scholarship.

“While it was disappointing to miss out last year, in hindsight I’ve actually benefited from the experience – I approached this year’s interviews more prepared, and I think I’ve grown in confidence having that extra year of maturity, which will enable me to gain more out of my Nuffield journey.”

Having observed a number of her friends become Nuffield Scholars over the years, she said the personal growth, knowledge and experiences they enjoyed as a result was what inspired her own Nuffield application.

“There’s a big world out there of people running their businesses and thinking differently, and I want to be a sponge to all that knowledge and passion. I’m very excited to now have the privilege of being a Nuffield Scholar.”

As the current Chair of the East Coast Primary Producers, she’s looking forward sharing her learnings with the local industry, and beyond.

“I believe the whole point of Nuffield is to share knowledge so that we can all grow and develop as an industry, locally, nationally and globally.”

“Agriculture is such a fabulous industry in which everyone wants to see each other succeed – we lift each other up in times of hardship, and celebrate each other’s wins, and I’m not sure that’s true of all industries.”

“It’s an industry I’m deeply passionate about, and am so grateful to Rabobank for sponsoring my scholarship and enabling this once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I would like to thank Rabobank for its generosity in supporting my Nuffield Scholarship. I look forward to drawing on the wealth of knowledge they have to offer.”

“Rabobank’s purpose and values align with my own, as a bank established by farmers for farmers to enable the success and growth of our industry. From their humble beginning to a global leader in agricultural lending I feel this speaks truths to their mission of ‘growing a better world together’.”

“I know first-hand that Rabobank managers are passionate about the businesses they support, and I knew our manager Helen Hume for many years before she joined Rabobank. To have a friend and someone who understands our business is invaluable to our success, and I’m very grateful for this relationship.”