Hey everyone! Hope you’ve had a great weekend!
I used mine to relax and mentally prepare for my new course… essentially meaning computer games, good movies, cooking and wine. Hot tip if you’re into science fiction: watch HBO’s new Westworld series. Revolves around artificial intelligence and simulated realities, and its actors and writing is on par with Game of Thrones, if you know what that is ;). Watch!
Yesterday was my first day on the Project Based Research Training course. This course can be taken on several occasions during your master’s, but I personally think it’s best to take it now (didn’t find the other course alternative as agroecological and interesting).
In this course we get to choose (or, if we can’t find one we like, we get assigned to) a research group. The topic, and hence the group I wanted to join works with Kernza – a perennial grain crop being developed by The Land Institute in Kansas, US.
I’ve written about this subject here before, but basically, perennial crops promise to relieve farmers of heavy soil cultivation practices, in part because these crops should not have to be planted and replanted every single year. These crops have extensive root networks that in theory are much better at finding water and nutrients from deeper down in the soil. They are also quicker at reestablishing themselves in the spring, which might lead to better competition against weeds, among other things. If these crops can be developed, and farmers opt to use them, farmers may benefit from needing to buy less inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and diesel), while at the same time saving themselves time by not sitting in the tractor as often as before. But it’s still a big if. I’m hoping that this can be done. The Land Institute (TLI) is working hard on making this happen by devoting most of their time on pure breeding and domestication.
They are, however, not working as much with evaluating how these agroecosystems function in reality (investigating ecosystem services, for example), but there is at least one experiment where researchers have tried to compare nutrient leaching in both annual and perennial (Kernza) agroecosystems – effectively showing that perennial systems are much better than annual systems at capturing excess nitrogen (Culman et al. 2013). This is good news for both farmers and the environment alike. Farmers want to make the best use of their fertilizers, while no body wants overfertilized groundwater and coastal areas covered by algal blooms and eutrophication.
My job within this coursewill be similar to the study above, as I will focus on the nitrogen dynamics in agroecosystems – trying to compare annual and perennial systems in terms of leaching in Swedish agroecosystems.
So what happened on my first day? I was introduced to everyone at the institution, got my own desk and office, was shown the coffee machine, and got my project plan approved. Next up, I’ll be doing a literature review, checking out the fields, and coming up with a good way to collect samples in the field, the latter part of which, happens to coincide with this seasons coldest days so far. Thrilled about the fields, less so by the coming winter. 😀
Culman, S.W., Snapp, S.S., Ollenburger, M., Basso, B., and DeHaan, L.R., 2013. Soil and water quality rapidly responds to the perennial grain Kernza wheatgrass. Agronomy Journal, 105 (3), 735–744. Available: https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/aj/abstracts/105/3/735 [2016-11-01]