LEAF is one of the partners in an exciting four year European project called DIVERSify exploring the benefits of ‘plant teams’ or intercropping which basically means growing two or more crops together, at the same time, in the same space. As well as looking at how plant teams can help boost yields and improve sustainability, it is also helping to upskill young researchers through its Young Researcher Program and online Speak Out Toolkit.
Young Researcher on a Mission
Last summer, as part of the DIVERSify project, I took the leap and spent a week at the Organic Research Centre (ORC) to be trained in all things related to quadrat sampling! It was a fabulous opportunity for me to get my wellies on and immerse myself in research at a farm and plot scale; a long way away from my day job at LEAF and even further from my university days where I could often be found in a lab coat and goggles trying to identify plankton as part my marine biology degree!
On a sunny afternoon in early August I headed to the Organic Research Centre to start my Young Researcher Mission which involved getting to grips with quadrat sampling methodology and trying out sampling on the ORC’s trials at the Sonning research site (part of the University of Reading).
From here I learnt some important lessons on how to be a super sampler! The key is making sure you’re random with where samples are taken and if all else fails close your eyes and chuck the quadrat! With this type of sampling it is also good to get the same number of rows in each sample and to try to avoid any edge effects by ensuring you are not too close to the edge of a plot or field.
Next I visited a participating farm and took samples of their mono beans, bean and wheat plant team plots which were processed back at the ORC. Processing consisted of separating the beans and wheat, podding, weighing and drying the beans and wheat . We then took multiple weights of the samples to ensure they were completely dried, and a final weight was taken to give us our quadrat yield.
Next was a long drive, with great company, to the another participatory farm to take samples of their beans and oilseed rape plant team trials. We collected six samples in each of the mono and intercrop plots, completed just in time before the heavens opened (the joys of an English summer!). Samples were then processed with a LOT of beans needed to be podded and weighed to give us the quadrat yield.
I then went solo to the final participatory farm taking ten quarter metre quadrat samples each in their mono and intercrop plot and took one last trip to the ORC to undertake the last of the processing.
All results from the sampling and Young Researcher Mission were presented to the Participatory farmers and wider Innovative Farmer group as well as feed into wider DIVERSify activities.
It was a great opportunity to improve my sampling skills, meet some amazing farmers and working with some of the fantastic ORC team. My experience will certainly feed into my role at LEAF and our wider European and national projects as well as give us the opportunity to get more involved in trials at a farm level.
A massive thank you to the Organic Research Centre team especially Charlotte and Katie – I don’t want to pod another bean for a while!