Mark Phillips has been chosen as a Nuffield scholar this year but working in ag wasn’t always his plan.
Growing up on the family potato and beef farm in Arlington, P.E.I., Mark Phillips loved helping his dad John out around the farm. His father, who chose to work on the family farm before finishing his university degree, pushed Phillips to further his education before entering the world of farming — which he did.
“When I did that, I got a little bit further away from the farm. And then, upon graduation of university, I was working the co-op program. I had a job lined up and the funding fell through at the last minute. So, I ended up back on the farm for summer,” Phillips explains in a phone interview.
Phillips had studied business with a focus on marketing at the University of Prince Edward Island and at the end of that summer a position as the market information officer at the P.E.I. Potato Board opened up. After working on the farm all summer, Phillips found himself falling back in love with agriculture and the job seemed like the perfect way to use his university education and still work in the industry he loved.
“When I found myself back on the farm, it was kind of a unique situation, because I enjoyed it immensely,” Phillips says. “It ended up kind of being a great thing for me career wise to kind of refocus my interests on the farm. And it was probably one of the reasons I was able to land the job (at the Potato Board) too.”
Phillips has been at the P.E.I. Potato Board now for 12 years, and during that time his job has evolved from being solely focused on markets information to now include promotions and marketing for the group.
In 2019 his family sold the farm, WestCountry Farms, to neighbours. At the time Phillips had debated returning to the farm but with his job at the Potato Board and his life already established it wasn’t the right fit for him.
“Once (the neighbours) bought the farm, dad had the opportunity to work for them. So, it’s been kind of a nice transition. Because I think dad would go crazy without still being involved in the farm in some way. So, it’s kind of you know, it was a good change,” he explains.
Becoming a Nuffield Scholar
Working at the Potato Board Phillips has had the chance to work with General Manager Greg Donald. In 2015, Donald was picked as a Canadian Nuffield scholar. Donald’s project focused the international potato industry’s strategic plans for long term critical success.
Phillips watched his boss complete his Nuffield studies travelling the world and was intrigued. However, Donald was more established in his career making Phillips believe the program was just for those who had been working in ag for a while. After Donald had finished his Nuffield studies, he started encouraging Phillips to apply.
“I believe Mark really is the ideal candidate for the Nuffield scholarship,” Donald says in a phone interview. “It’ll give him a greater perspective on something that he feels really strongly about. And also, to learn from that and for the betterment of not only himself, but also our industry here that he cares so much for.”
Late in 2021, Phillips was announced as one of Nuffield scholars for the year. Phillips’ project will focus on learning more about the issues producers face with respect to developing public trust and how to work with the general public to foster an understanding of agricultural practices and the reasons behind them.
“There are great resources out there for things like public trust, the Canadian Center for Food Integrity and places like that. But I found some of the things I was encountering… I would go and look at things for specific instances we’d encounter, and I didn’t find any resources,” Phillips explains. “I hope to define some research to see what some of the best methods are to deal with the public and how to communicate with them what we do.”
Phillips will be completing his Nuffield studies and travelling for them throughout 2022.
Header photo — (L-R) Nuffield Canada Scholar Mark Phillips and his dad John Phillips. Photo: Brady McCloskey Photography