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ALS 5905 INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH IMMERSION STUDENT BLOGS

Erick’s experience in Bangor, UK

Cyfarchion ! 

At the end of 2019 I was awarded a Global Research Alliance Development Scholarship (CLIFF-GRADS) by the Climate, Food, and Farming Network and to do a 4-6 month research stay at the Environmental Centre Wales (ECW), Bangor University, UK, to collaborate on the project “Tracing back the contribution of deep roots to soil carbon sequestration using isotopic tracers” under the guidance of Dr. Jones and Dr. Chadwick. This research project was a great opportunity to learn how to work with 14C and gain experience working with isotopes. In my research lab at the North Florida Research and Education Center, Marianna, we frequently use stable isotopes (e.g. 13C and 15N) in our studies, but never radioisotopes such as 14C. I was thus very enthusiastic when I received the news! Unfortunately, as we all know, 2020 has been a very challenging year. I had just received my UK Visa when we went into lockdown. I was supposed to come in May and stay until November originally, but was only able to arrive at Bangor University on August 25th. After quarantining for two weeks, I was finally able to discover the ECW and the university farm at Henfaes. 

The starting date of the project I was to collaborate on ended up being pushed back as well. The bright side was that I was able to help during the establishment of the plots. Briefly, we had to dig 16 plots (2 x 2 m) up to 60-cm deep. Then, depending on the treatment, we would put a mesh at a certain depth so the roots would not grow deeper, and put a “L-shaped” pipe at the same depth going up to the surface. The pipes will be used for monitoring greenhouse gas emission (GHG; CO2, CH4, and N2O) from the soil at different depths. We also put plastic all around the inner part of the holes so the roots from the outside would not grow through. The analysis will be carried out at three different depths: 20 cm, 40 cm, and 60 cm. After taking out the soil (and removing the big stones, and they were very big!), installing the equipment, and putting it back, perennial ryegrass was planted in the plots. In a couple weeks, the grass will be marked with 14C, and it will be possible to quantify the contribution of the roots to the “new” soil organic matter, as well as estimate their contribution to GHG emission. 

I am currently starting the third month of my research stay. Besides running into some issues with visa renewal, I am excited about two new projects that I will conduct here. The best of it is that, Dr. Jones, and Dr. Chadwick, are willing to do research that will fit my PhD main study. In the first one, we will evaluate how different C:N ratios and soil depths affects plant litter decomposition. Is it better to incorporate in the soil or not? We will also measure GHG emission and leachates in this set up. The second study will evaluate how the soil properties (topsoil vs subsoil) dictate the root growth of two different cultivar of ryegrass, a deep rooting cultivar and a control. Both studies will be conducted in a greenhouse with part of the first one in a growth chamber. 

With all that, it was nice to walk around and get to know the city. Bangor is a very nice small coastal college town with historic buildings and much nature to take advantage of. The landscape here is beautiful! There are many mountains and trees. Grass and sheep also comprise much of the view. I have a list of places I still want to visit, such as the botanic garden and the castle. Overall, it has been a great experience to get to know another country, culture, and research program, and doing it at the of my PhD program was awesome to see other perspectives. There are still more to come for the next three months and I can’t wait to see the results of our studies. Until then, Go Gators! 

David’s experience in Dublin, Ireland

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland! I am fortunate enough able to complete my international immersion experience here at University College Dublin (UCD). It sounds strange to say, but I am in the middle of my six-month stay here in Dublin. My research area and interests are largely dealing with forage and grassland management for livestock production. In that aspect, Ireland is an excellent place for such research area since climatic conditions allow for year-round forage production for cattle and sheep production on pasture, and the Irish are among the world-leaders in livestock greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable livestock production research. At UCD, I am working under the guidance of Dr. Helen Sheridan, an agroecologist working in various areas relevant to Irish livestock production. Within the past few years, Dr. Sheridan and her collaborators have been pushing for implementation of multi-species grasslands where they include grasses, legumes, and herb species into pastures in aims of increasing grassland productivity, but also improving the environmental footprint and sustainability of grazing systems in Ireland.

A few weeks prior to my arrival, Dr. Sheridan’s team planted two different grazing trials evaluating the differences between N-fertilized grass, grass-legume, or multi-species swards in terms of livestock performance, soil-related responses, and environmental footprint of these systems. One of these trials is being conducted at Lyons Research Farm, which is a UCD research farm located just outside Dublin. Interestingly, the university has committed to support the grazing trial for 15 years. It has been a challenging past few months for Dr. Sheridan and her team to have everything ready for the start of grazing. The pastures were planted this past June and are currently being fenced before heifers start grazing within a few weeks. The other trial is set up on a commercial farm site in collaboration with a commercial feed company Dr. Sheridan was able to develop a partnership with. The aim of the trial is to develop grazing management practices for beef and sheep co-grazing systems. One of the treatments in both trials includes the aptly named ‘Sheridan Salad Bowl’, which includes nine species in total, comprised of perennial ryegrass, timothy, cocksfoot, white and red clover, birds-foot trefoil, chicory, plantain, and yarrow.

There have been promising results from small plot and grazing trials related to the multi species pastures. From the cultural aspect, getting producers to adopt these practices will continue to be a major challenge, and therefore it is critical to continue the research to develop management techniques for these multispecies grasslands.

Going back to just after a few days after my arrival, I had the chance to attend a field day at TEAGASC Moorepark, one of the main research centers of the Irish state agency responsible for research and extension in agriculture (similar to USDA-ARS). When I first received the invitation, they mentioned it would be a big event, but it only really hit me when I got to the event. There were around 15,000 people, if not more, most of whom were livestock producers and general public, all interested in agriculture. I was really surprised to see that many people interested in our research area! There were displays and demonstrations dealing with everything from grass-legume production, animal nutrition, plant breeding, to agro-economics. It really was an eye-opening event to me, realizing just how much the Irish people appreciate and are deeply connected with agriculture, especially dairy production.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in Ireland so far, both on a personal and professional level! Dr. Sheridan and her graduate students have welcomed me with open arms into their team and have taught me quite a bit about Irish agriculture. My advisor Dr. Jose Dubeux was also able to come spend a week with us here in Dublin and we were able to show him around the various trials. I’m looking forward to seeing what these next few months still have in store!

Victor’s experience in Göttingen, Germany

Though it has been just over one month since departing from Florida, I can say the time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye because it was so action packed! Just within my first week in Göttingen, Germany, I was able to get my hands on some soils, four different orders in fact! This opportunity came as I joined in field excursions with a group of international forestry graduate students studying under the instruction of Prof. Dr. Edzo Veldkamp from the Soil Science of Tropical and Subtropical Ecosystems department. These excursions gave me a glimpse of the different soil types within this region and exposed me to parent materials and soil forming prosses associated with volcanic activity and wind deposited materials, which I have not encountered in Florida.

This initial experience gave me a sneak peek at some of the soil types I would be encountering while collecting soil cores for the determination of saturated and unsaturated hydraulic conductivities and water retention characteristics at four agroforestry sites across northern Germany. These sites are part of the long term Bonares-sustainable intensification of agriculture through agroforestry (SIGNAL) project This is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institution research alliance aiming to compare conventional agricultural systems with experimental agroforestry systems. In these agroforestry systems, arable land is planted with a variety of annual crops and strips of fast-growing tree species (Poplar Populus maximowiczii) intended to improve economic and environmental sustainability. I am enjoying the opportunity to work in a diverse team here at Georg-August-Universität to look at the nutrient flux potential in these systems as well as some of the soil microbial community dynamics. More information on the Bonares-SIGNAL project can be found at http://www.signal.uni-goettingen.de/.

Just a few weeks after arriving in Germany, I was on the move once more – this time to Ankara, Turkey, to attend the 25th anniversary of the Convention and the World Day to Combat Desertification. It was celebrated during the International Soil Congress. This three-day event gave me the opportunity to network with policymakers, scientists, and dignitaries while broadening my understanding of the framework and progress of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The theme of this congress, “Successful Transformation toward Land Degradation Neutrality,” is something I hope to be a part of in the near future, working in Turkey and the surrounding region. UNCCD Lead Scientist Dr. Barron Orr gave the keynote address on this theme. It brought me renewed excitement to apply my knowledge and skills to work strategically to have a big impact. While at this congress I made many connections and made friends with two fellow Gators who were once students in the Soil and Water Sciences department!

Timothy’s experience in Arizona

Greetings from the desert land of Arizona. My individual study program was originally planned for Wageningen University with an emphasis on crop modeling. However, the program was canceled at the last hour for lack of upcoming research for me to collaborate with others. I received special permission to have my program done here in the United States. I am presently with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in Arizona. My research focus in Florida has always been on best management practices in vegetable production. This includes testing different irrigation and nutrient management practices as well as modeling tools to improve production practices while reducing negative environmental consequences. So, I decided to do my individual study in a similar line but under different environmental and soil conditions, irrigation management, and crop type. For these requirements, USDA-ARS in Arizona provides a perfect match.

Two of the many problems facing the agricultural industry in Arizona are high temperature (heat stress) and availability of water for irrigation purposes. Cotton is an important crop in the Arizona low desert area. Over the last three decades, daily average temperature has steadily increased, suggesting a more challenging growing conditions for the future, especially in the face of climate change. Although cotton is relatively more tolerant to heat than many other agronomic crops, excessive heat is taking a toll on cotton production in Arizona. Another problem associated with elevated temperature is the increase in irrigation water demand to meet the crop’s requirement. This problem will create pressure on water demand for agricultural purposes in Arizona with already depleted waterbodies. Although cotton growers in Arizona are seeing the impact of increasing temperature on cotton production, this problem has not been researched until now.

Part of my role here at ARS is to evaluate the potential effects of future climatic projections on cotton production in the Arizona low desert area. Also, part of the study is to determine how the future climatic condition will influence the future water demand in the region. In this study, I used nine global climate models developed from different parts of the world to predict weather variables. I simulated the future climatic conditions up to 2099 for local conditions in Arizona. The predicted future climate was used to develop the effects of high temperature on cotton production and water demand. We hope this work will be useful not only to serve as an important tool for present production practices but also to stir further studies and serve as a guide to decision making for shaping future production practices in the area. Other than this simulation study, I have also participated in several field works, such as irrigation management, sampling, and other related activities on the field.