St. Vincent-area farmer Leona Dargis is one of three winners chosen from a field of 60 applicants for the 2011 Nuffield Canada scholarships.
“This is the next step,” says Dargis, who has an agribusiness degree, worked as a John Deere farm management consultant, and plans to be a farm finance consultant.
The Nuffield organization looks for people with leadership potential and agriculture experience and supports their development through international study. In return, scholars are expected to be resource people in their areas of interest when they complete their programs.
Dargis, who turns 26 this month, and her older Lynn took over their family farm when both their parents died in a small-plane crash in the autumn of 2007. Dargis says she and her sister drew on the values they had absorbed growing up in a large, close-knit family in running the farm and helping their three younger sisters through school.
“We were involved in every aspect of the farm growing up,” Dargis says. “Mom and Dad were starting to give us more responsibility on the farm, so it was kind of a seamless transition in the farm operations.”
Dargis has developed her leadership skills and gained a network of global contacts by being involved in numerous organizations, including serving on the board of the Canadian Young Farmers Forum. Her field of study will be succession planning and diversification on the family farm. “It’s grown to be a keen interest of mine,” Dargis says.
Range of criteria
The Nuffield scholarships target people ages 25 to 45 who are involved in some way with agriculture – either primary production, industry or governance. There’s flexibility at the upper age limit.
“They have to be old enough to have accomplished something, but young enough to do something else,” says Nuffield Canada secretary Rod Bradshaw, an Innisfail vegetable farmer and former Nuffield scholar. “A lot of people have changed focus entirely when they come back, for example, from dairy to the pedigreed seed business.”
Most scholars are in their early to mid-30s, but Dargis applied the moment she turned 25 last year.
“She’s an exceptional candidate because of the adversity she’s gone through with losing her parents,” Bradshaw says. “The experience she’s had makes her more mature than a 25-year-old would usually be.”
Although the scholarship has recently been increased to $15,000, travel is expensive, Bradshaw says, and so Nuffield is looking to corporate sponsorships to supplement Nuffield funding (which is raised through memberships and donations). Dargis is already knocking on doors of potential sponsors and offering to make presentations to their networks or employees when she gets back. She has chosen to travel to Australia and New Zealand, which are “the most similar to Canada in farm structure, laws and bylaws.”
She already has contacts there from earlier travels and will ask other Nuffield scholars in other countries to help connect her with the people she’s looking for.
“Markets are definitely becoming more global,” says Dargis. “Having international connections is going to be an advantage to create opportunities.”
Her appreciation of networking started at Olds.
“They provided glimpses of different organizations,” she says. “They sponsored me to go to a Royal Agricultural Societies of the Commonwealth conference in Calgary. In 2008, it was in New Zealand and I was asked to present a paper on what had happened on the farm. I gave a paper on overcoming adversity.”
Dargis credits her parents for instilling a love of farming, entrepreneurship, and taking on new challenges.
“My parents started with a couple of hundred cows, a cow-calf operation, then built a feedlot and built the grain side of things,” she says. “They grew to be a 4,000-head feedlot, farming 7,000 acres.
“My parents were remarkable people. I am super-grateful for every experience, every lesson, every moment shared.”
Nuffield scholars have two years to complete their studies. The original Nuffield Foundation is a charitable trust established in Britain in 1943 by William Morris, the founder of Morris Motors and later Lord Nuffield. There are now seven countries offering about 50 Nuffield scholarships annually.
“Weworkedhard becauseitwasthe essenceofhavinga housetolivein,foodfor ourbelliesandclothes onourback.Ourparents madesurewehadthose values.”
NUFFIELD CANADA SECRETARY