TMAF produces more than crops and evidence. We also provide invaluable experience and insights, particularly to young agri-professionals at the start of their careers. One of the latest to enjoy a TMAF opportunity is Stan Clarke. We asked Stan to sum up what he did and what he gained.
Grounded with an interest in agriculture
“The older you get, the more you can pinpoint what you enjoy learning. Science has always been the subject I looked forward to at school; at A-level, Biology became my favourite, my first years of university confirmed my love of plant sciences, and my dissertation project gave me hands-on experience working in agricultural research. There aren’t many issues that agriculture doesn’t influence, so to work in an industry that is so important and constantly evolving is something that really appeals to me.
Does cultivation or a spring bean companion crop impact flea beetle larvae numbers?
My degree dissertation looked into ways to mitigate cabbage stem flea beetle pressure on oilseed rape, using the NIAB New Farming Systems Cultivation Trial at Morley supported by The Morley Agricultural Foundation. Cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) (Psylliodes chrysocephala) costs the UK economy £70 million annually.
This rather troublesome pest is becoming harder to control with each passing harvest, largely due to the historical reliance of the now banned neonicotinoid sprays. Subsequently, there is a growing need to control CSFB through employing alternative technologies, such as cultivation and cropping systems. The 12 year long trial at Morley that explores interactions of primary cultivation method and the use of cover and companion crops. In 2019 the trial was in a winter oilseed rape break crop. I focused my research on 4 treatments:
- Plough and spring bean companion crop
- Shallow non-inversion (10cm)
- Shallow non-inversion (10cm) and spring bean companion crop
Collecting CSFB data required a novel funnel-cup trap to be designed, whereby traps were placed next to the base of an oilseed rape plant for 24 days over May to capture falling CSFB larvae as they attempted to submerge into the soil for pupation. This trap also caught a myriad of other invertebrates, and all specimens were identified in the UEA labs. Five traps were placed over a 5 metre spacing in each of the four treatments, which were replicated 4 times, giving a total of 80 unique data-points.
The results showed that shallow non-inversion tillage had the lowest populations of CSFB. Interestingly, oilseed rape under shallow cultivation supported the greatest number of ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), a natural predator of CSFB. Although a spring bean companion crop showed no impact on CSFB numbers. This plays into the mantra that for agriculture to be sustainable, we cannot expect our answers to come from a bottle, but rather encourage integrated pest management.
Work experience with TMAF
When I finished my project, I volunteered one day a week with David Clarke and Stephen Walker in the NIAB soils and farming systems research team at Morley. This gave me a well-rounded flavour of some soil and agronomic measurements and data collection methods. For example, I was shown how to measure and calculate soil bulk density. Bulk density is largely a measure of how compact the soil is, and is affected by a plethora of factors such as machinery traffic, crop, weather and soil texture.
David also taught me how to input and process VESS data. This is a visual assessment of soil structure, and gives surprisingly reliable indications of soil health. I got a chance to do my own VESS scoring with Steven in subsequent weeks, along with worm counts on trial sites. This gave me a chance to apply my knowledge on the field and got to grips with using the technical equipment, such as the GPS tracker and data recording.
Finding my career path in agriculture
From being randomly forwarded an advert regarding the research trials operating at Morley by my academic advisor, to conducting my own research for my dissertation, to completing weekly work experience with NIAB, I have found the work extremely engaging.
My opportunity with TMAF and the farm at Morley has developed my appreciation for the importance of crop improvement, and I look forward to a future in agronomy and agricultural research, working to try to answer questions of food security and sustainability.”