October 25, 2016

26/10/2016: The interview - Clifford Spencer

Mr Clifford Spencer of the UK has been appointed chairman of the newly-formed ‘Milling4Life’ charity which aims to assist the relief of hunger through advancing milling practices in developing and transitional countries.

Currently Mr Spencer leads the Global Biotechnology Transfer Foundation (GBTF), which with support from global organisations, makes up a strong delivery mechanism for the Foundation's aims.
Clifford Spencer

The GBTF was formed with the intervention of the United Nations and is dedicated to promoting the potential for biotechnology to support sustainable, long-term, socio-economic development.

‘Technical biology’ is to gain a better understanding of a subject in which we operate and excel. Thus, bread-making, brewing and composting are as much a part of biotechnology as the genetic work that is often disproportionately associated with the subject.

The Foundation is currently involved in activities ranging from promoting community bioenergy programmes to the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. ‘Milling4Life’ is privileged, and honoured, to have Mr Spencer as it Chairman.

In your livestock farming period, what type of animals did you farm and what were your key motivations at that time?
In my lifetime my family farmed every form of livestock but pigs. However, I was taught by the foremost pig-breeding expert in the UK at university, thus making up for that shortcoming.

The reason pigs were excluded from our enterprises was my grandfather suffered overwhelming loss due to the ravages of Swine Fever and this experience put my late father off farming the animal.

We produced everything from the winning turkey at the UK national poultry show and which subsequently went on to provide Her Majesty the Queen’s Christmas dinner on more than one occasion, to high-quality milk, eggs, specialist sheep with highly productive and out of season production attributes to working actively in artificial insemination in cattle in its early days in the 1950s and 1960s in my teenage years.

What have you done in the area of crop production and research and why did you focus on this area of activity?

In the late 1960s and 1970s our farm was a frequent entrant across the Atlantic Ocean in the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair based in Toronto where we ultimately secured the Supreme Champion title for a winter wheat crop produced on our farm.

I have also broken various yield and quality records in cereal, pulse and oilseed crops throughout my active farming career. I have personally grown some 60 species of plants whilst being involved in leading on-farm research work with many industrial and academic partners for over 30 years, for example the first introduction of hybrid cereals to the UK with Shell in the 1980s and hybrid oilseeds in the 1990s.

I chaired the pulse panel at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany helping select the best varieties of peas and beans for UK farmers as well as serving on the levy panel at the Processors and Growers Research Organisation, where this charge on all UK pulse growers helped provide leading research for these crops.

I was also a leading nucleus seed producer for an extensive range of crops and indeed our business was UK leading in that respect. Our seed was exported around the world due to its quality and purity.

How do your experiences in livestock and cropping impact the work you do today?

I took over the family farm at a very early age and indeed ended my university education prematurely due to my late father’s ill health. As he said at the time he was not retired but just plain tired! That baptism of fire in my teens has thoroughly grounded me in the need for practical commercial thinking when assessing global farming systems.

This is in particular regard to facilitating change at farm level whatever the objective whether that’s soil health, animal welfare, broad ecosystem/environmental factors, human diet & health, climate change or production performance and efficiency.

Read the full interview HERE.

The Global Miller
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