Researching sustainable intensification in agriculture

After the first week of my internship, I am quite excited about what the rest of the summer will bring. I have met with my advisor (Dr. Barnes) several times to discuss my goals for the summer and also to go over what he is currently researching it. At the moment, he is looking at sustainable intensification (SI) in agriculture. As the name suggests, this essentially means: how can we increase agricultural production while keeping it sustainable, ie not depleting all of our resources. Incorporating SI into farming on a global scale is of the utmost importance for food security, something that becomes more relevant and pressing every day. There are many factors that comprise SI, one of which is integrated pest management (IPM), which Dr. Barnes is increasingly turning his focus to. This is a method that encourages the use of more natural pest control practices, especially on crops that are immediately consumed, such as vegetables and fruits, with chemical pesticides only being a last resort. This is  not a new technique, nor is it looked upon unfavorably, but it does not seem to be widespread. So the point of our research is to look at the uptake of IPM, which farmers use it and why, and if they don’t use it, why not? Currently, my role is to research SI and IPM and gather as much information as I can in order to start piecing together the puzzle. In the following weeks we will start using this information to lay the foundation for a future paper. Furthermore, we will start organizing workshops for farmers, so that we can talk about SI, and hopefully also get a chance to interview farmers to gather qualitative information on farmers’ opinions of SI methods. It’s all very exciting and I can’t wait to see what we achieve in the next few weeks.

Farming for the future: emissions mitigation policies for Scottish livestock

Agriculture is one of the largest sources of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, contributing to approximately 20% of all emissions; being able to adapt farming practices to make them more sustainable and environmentally friendly is of the utmost importance. Over the summer I intend to research Scottish farmers’ attitudes towards and perceptions of climate change, the effects of these attitudes and perceptions on reducing greenhouse gases from agriculture, and how this shapes the future of farming in the United Kingdom. My research will be based at Scotland’s Rural College, where I will be working with Dr. Andrew Barnes and his team for about 10 weeks. The project will focus on surveying farmers’ opinions on the subject of climate change: whether they believe in it, if they acknowledge its risks to their profession, and if they believe their agricultural practices contribute to climate change in any way. It will, ideally, identify barriers and opportunities for deeper engagement between scientists and the farming community, in hopes of furthering programs that both decrease emissions and allow farmers to be financially prosperous under changing climatic conditions. Existing research has demonstrated that the lack of progress in reducing emissions from agriculture often results from poor communication between farmers, scientists, and policy makers; improving this communication is key to successful emissions mitigation policies in the agriculture sector. My research will be based on conducting in-person interviews and surveys with Scottish farmers regarding their attitudes and beliefs on climate change and its relevance for their farm. The interview and survey instruments will be developed in collaboration with Dr. Andres Barnes and his research team at Scotland’s Rural College, and address issues that complement their existing research on this topic. Data from these interviews and surveys will then be analyzed alongside Dr. Barnes’s existing data using qualitative content analysis techniques. Sources will include farmers near Edinburgh (identified by Dr. Barnes) and pre-existing data collected by Dr. Barnes and his research team at SRUC.  The intended outcomes of this research include analyzing data and co-writing research reports or publications with researchers at SRUC and further developing the research proposal I drafted in ENSP 440.