And in Conclusion…the work must go on!

I’ve been back in America for precisely a week and I’m already missing the familiarity of both my apartment and my office in Edinburgh. Yet despite the thousands of miles of separation, I am still tied to my temporary home by my work, because my plane ticket did not put a stopper in it. The survey was sent out and now we are waiting for the answers to roll in so that I can analyze them, summarize them, and then finally, complete the paper I started in June. While the summer research is, obviously, limited to the summer months, the research I was lucky to be a part of will definitely continue in to autumn. It makes me feel like my work isn’t just a summer fling, so to speak, but something that is part of the real world; research that isn’t just a part of my small academic bubble, but something that affects other peoples’ lives. I can’t wait for the final answers to come in and to be able to analyze them, but even now, just a few weeks away from the summer research presentations, I really feel like I’ve been a part of something different, and I’ve learnt so many interesting things as well as multiple new skills. It’s been an amazing summer and I hope to not only do something similar next summer, but potentially something similar with the rest of my life.

Reaching out to the community – surveys

With less than a week before I fly back to America, I can safely say that I’m very happy with the work I have done here at Scotland’s Rural College. Over the last couple of weeks I have left the construction of my paper on the back burner for now so that I can dedicate time to collecting the data I need for it, which is really exciting! With the guidance of my advisor here at the college, I crafted a survey to send out to agricultural advisors in order to gather their opinions of food production and the environment. Dr. Barnes made a similar survey which has previously been sent out to farmers, and so the questions were only slightly modified in order for us to get parallel information which will let us directly compare the opinions of farmers and their advisors. In this way we can get a sense of whether these two groups, which should be working in tandem, actually see things the same, or if there are major differences which could be hindering the uptake of sustainable agricultural practices. The survey was sent off this morning, so now all that’s to be done is wait until people start responding! While I only have a few more days to work with Dr. Barnes in person, I will still be a part of the team even while back in America so that I can help analyse the data and then finish the paper I started less than 2 months ago. It will be incredibly satisfying to see this project through to the end and I am excited to see what data we get and what it can tell us about the future of sustainable farming.

Introduction into the realm of researcher

Over the last few weeks, I have been synthesizing and drafting a literature review for my professor, regarding the role of agricultural advisors in farming technology uptake. This is quite exciting because I’m learning so much about the field and I also feel as though I am contributing to a greater understanding of this particular area of study, which I suppose is a joy that can be shared by most researchers. The point of researching something is not just to improve one’s own understanding of it, but to spread that information with other people, which I believe can be very satisfying. However, I had no idea that there was just so much reading involved! This may sound naïve, but the number of papers I have read just to write a 6 page paper is astounding, especially as only a handful of the papers I read were incorporated into my review. More than anything, this work has helped me understand just how much work goes into the spread and transfer of information from one sphere to another. Yet the sense of accomplishment that comes with this is definitely worth the amount of seemingly fruitless work that is put into it.

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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.