A Conversation with...
Caroline Drummond has been Chief Executive of LEAF since it started in 1991. After graduating in Agriculture she worked on farms in the UK and overseas before joining LEAF. She was awarded an MBE for services to the agricultural industry in 2009 and has a Doctor of Science honoris causa (Hon DSc) from Harper Adams University. Caroline is a CHAP Board member, a Nuffield Scholar and Honorary Fellow for the Society of the Environment. We managed to track her down in a rare moment of free time to find out about the influences and interests that define her career.
How do you generally introduce yourself and the work you do?
Well hello and I am Caroline Drummond the Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) – a global charity, working in 27 countries to promote and develop more sustainable farming. We champion Integrated Farm Management – a whole farm system that brings together the best of traditional methods and modern technology, covering soil and water management, pollution control, crop health and protection, animal husbandry, community engagement, energy efficiency and landscape and nature conservation.
We work in three areas namely: knowledge generation and exchange, through our network of LEAF Demonstration Farms and Innovation Centres and the development of management tools and guidance; through opening up market opportunities for farmers with our global environmental assurance system, the LEAF Marque, which allows farmers to be recognised for their environmental credentials, indeed some 43% of UK fruit and veg is LEAF Marque certified; and, our third focus is on education and public engagement through LEAF Education. We work with schools, creating resources and training and supporting teachers to embed farming right across the curriculum.
We also manage the hugely successful LEAF Open Farm Sunday which this year has been online with live videos of farmers up and down the country celebrating the wonderful diversity of farmers, farm type, cropping and landscapes.
Tell me how you first got involved in with LEAF
I first got involved with LEAF when it started back in 1991. I was working as an agronomy lecturer and forklift truck driver instructor at Shuttleworth Agricultural College and the opportunity of the role at LEAF came up. It represented everything I fundamentally believe in, the importance of science-based farming, alongside that critical need to engage with consumers.
Not originally from a farming background, my father was a diver, I had worked on a range of farms in the UK and across the world. Inspired by every farm I have worked on, I soon learned about the skills and capability of the farmers and the sheer joy of being involved with soil, nature, water and growing.
A friend of mine pointed out the advert for the job at LEAF and I was delighted to be selected, for what was originally a three-year project! Twenty-nine years later, LEAF has grown and developed to become a driving force in more sustainable farming thanks to the wonderful farmers, LEAF Board members and our many industry partners we work with and of course the great team at the LEAF head office.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
It would be fair to say that I am the eternal optimist; I like to think that every challenge includes opportunities to be embraced. Whether it be funding, finding practical solutions for farmers, or trying to find clarity in some of the ever-shifting sands of the multiple emergencies that our industry faces.
I take huge pride from the fact that at LEAF we have continued to be very focused on the delivery of more sustainable agriculture through IFM. Such values have held us in good stead, ensuring that we balance those core needs for farming, of economic viability, environmental responsibility and social acceptability. While the methods we employ have changed, improved and developed over the past nearly 30 years, those values have not and as we look ahead to our fourth decade, we are determined to ensure those values continue to hold true.
As well as being Chief Executive of LEAF, you are a CHAP board member, how do you divide your time/energy between the two? (How) do the two roles (and organisations) complement each other?
My role at LEAF is of course full time and as a non-executive director of the CHAP board the time I devote to that is more concentrated!
It helps that LEAF’s and CHAP’s work certainly complement each other very well. I see the role and real opportunity for CHAP in the crop and horticulture sector to act as the coordinator for much of the research and innovation that these sectors are going to need to adopt in order to ensure robust, resilient and effective farming systems.
We have a farming industry that is buoyant, innovative and can do, and this is completely represented by our LEAF Demonstration Farmers who will be some of the first to adopt the findings and practices that are starting to come out of the CHAP partners. We look forward continue to work closely and find practical solutions to shared challenges.
How do you think UK agriculture has changed since the creation of the four Agri-Tech Centres for Innovation?
UK agriculture has always adapted and will continue to do so. It is those who embrace new challenges, experiment and move forward that are most likely to be successful and more resilient.
Since the creation of the Agri-Tech Centres, UK farming has had to deal with intense weather events, changing political landscapes and an increasing focus on delivering public goods and natural capital not to mention developing programmes for net-zero GHG emissions.
Where CHAP and the Agri-Tech Centres have the opportunity to support farmers and growers is through the supporting evidence and interpretation of data and the use of AI.
Tell me about someone who influenced your decision to work in this area?
I have been very honoured to work with some truly wonderful individuals. In particular, our LEAF Demonstration Farmers, members and LEAF Marque certified businesses. I learn something from them every day and, I hope, put in practice, some of their wisdom and thoughts that so many individuals have shared with me over the years.
Without a doubt David Richardson, LEAF’s first Chairman has been and continues to be a true inspiration to me, and of course, I have really enjoyed working with John Chinn, his deep thinking, enthusiasm and sage direction is an ongoing source of inspiration.
What do you think will be the biggest change in Agriculture over the next five years?
I genuinely think one of the biggest challenges for agriculture of the next five years is around food security and our capability to clearly define it. For me, food security is not just about self-sufficiency, it is about food safety, the avoidance of food fraud, ensuring we have the appropriate cropping, including the need for more protein crops grown in this country.
It is about supporting farmers in their ability to grow: enhancing productivity, while adding value to our environment, water quality and soils. This includes the importance of robust science, research, skills, access to information knowledge, tools, resources and inputs with a fair trading environment. I strongly believe the UK farmer is in an excellent place for delivering this and it is organisations like CHAP and indeed LEAF, that are in a good position to support and lead this going forward.
What would you like to be remembered for?
What a difficult question! Essentially, I think I would like to be remembered for the part I have played in building bridges. When LEAF started out, the notion of organisations as disparate as the NFU sitting around the same table as say, the CPRE or the RSPB was almost unthinkable. I have always been motivated by people and partnerships and I hope that I will be remembered for bringing people together, inspiring retailers, policy makers, conservationists, consumer groups and farmers to work in partnership towards a shared vision of a more sustainable planet. And of course, I will forever be remembered for being the “LEAF Lady”!
LEAF – Linking Environment And Farming – works to deliver more sustainable food and farming. It work with farmers, the food industry, scientists and consumers, to inspire and enable sustainable farming that is prosperous, enriches the environment and engages local communities. For more information click here.