Unlike characters in the movie “Around the World in 80 Days,” it will take the 2018 Nuffield International Farming Scholar a little longer to learn about agriculture worldwide.

The scholarship has allowed Brian Dougherty to embark on a two-year, worldwide agricultural research journey to study how the intersection of soil health, water quality and agricultural management practices impacts agricultural sustainability.

“This program is an amazing opportunity,” said Dougherty, who is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University in Ames.

One of only three individuals to ever be selected nationwide, the agricultural engineer hopes his research will prove beneficial to Iowa, U.S. and global agriculture.

It takes $60,000 to support a scholar through their months of travel and research. While the scholarship does provide the awardee with financial, developmental and logistical support, a significant portion of the program relies on sponsorships.

ISA supports Nuffield scholar’s research

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) board of directors approved a sponsorship investment of $15,000 in January.

Pat Swanson, an ISA board member from Ottumwa, supported the investment. She’s hoping international relationships developed through this program could help uncover more markets and create demand for Iowa soybean farmers.

“We’re always looking out for our members,” Swanson said. “What an opportunity for us to learn through Brian and see what challenges other countries are having and how it relates to our challenges and our economy.”

Dougherty, who grew up on a dairy farm near Waukon, is also supported by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, National Pork Board and Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

President of the Nuffield International USA Associate Board Ed Kee spoke to the ISA board about the sponsorship opportunity.

“It seemed like the board was truly interested in providing Iowa farmers with this global learning opportunity,” Kee said.

Nearly 1,700 individuals worldwide have had the opportunity to research agricultural topics of interest since the program’s inception 70 years ago. Dougherty is one of three individuals from the U.S. to ever earn the scholarship.

Dougherty and Kee will host a global focus group of scholars in Iowa in July. In 2019, the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference, which is held in a different country each year, will be held in Ames. Over 120 agricultural scholars, presenters and sponsors from 10 different countries will attend the conference.

The journey so far

Dougherty, along with nearly 80 other scholars from around the world, began fleshing out travel and study plans last November.

The goal for the global focus group portion of the program is to gain leadership qualities, develop communications skills, and gain insight and understanding of strategic issues in global agriculture to help the scholars make the best use of their scholarship.

In early March, the first leg of international travel began. The group first met in London for a short pre-study briefing. Then, Dougherty’s global focus group spent approximately one week in each of the following countries: the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, Canada, Argentina and Chile. During their travels, they toured farms and agricultural businesses, conversed with public and private sector researchers, and visited with leaders in government.

The group’s travels concluded at the end of April. Though he was not surprised, Dougherty noted that he saw drastically different levels of government involvement in agriculture worldwide.

Dougherty explained that at one end of the spectrum, Europe is highly regulated and subsidized, and the government is very involved in research. Conversely, farmers in Argentina and Chile receive essentially no government help. Farmers rely on each other through transparent operations and research partnerships.

“We met a lot of very innovative farmers, a lot of people doing amazing things,” said Dougherty, noting that he is interested in understanding some of the issues average farmers face.

What’s next?

Dougherty is now in the second part of his scholarship program — individual study. Scholars plan their own travel that spans approximately eight weeks. They can go anywhere in the world beneficial to their research.

In the second week of May, Dougherty will go to New Zealand and Australia for a month. This fall, he will travel to the U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and a few others, also for a month. These countries have strict rules on odor control, manure storage and conservation practices, so he is looking forward to seeing what is working for farmers and what isn’t.

“The ultimate goal is to make and maintain connections internationally,” said Dougherty. “I’m hoping to gather new ideas, technologies, and relationships and bring it all back to Iowa.”

At the completion of his research, Dougherty will put together a comprehensive report detailing his experiences and research results. The information will be published through Nuffield and made available for sponsors. Dougherty will also visit sponsors and other agricultural related groups to present his research.

The scholars have also been diligent in keeping interested parties informed of their travels. Many, including Dougherty, have shared their experiences through social media, especially Twitter, and plan to continue as they embark on their individual studies.

“I’m already telling people about my trip,” Dougherty said. “I want to share it with as many people as I can so that more farmers, researchers, and agribusinesses know about it and can benefit from it.”