Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dispatches from the Virgin Islands: Anticipation

This week Agronomy Masters Student David Hensley is embarking on a research trip to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in St. Croix. Mr. Hensley will be stationed there until late spring and has agreed to send dispatches to IrriGator about his work and progress there. Here is the first in his series of contributions:

Currently I'm working on an MS thesis degree in the agronomy department with an Agroecology concentration. I just submitted my thesis proposal and now know that my research is focused on the interaction between synthetic nitrogen fertilization and biological nitrogen fixation in crop rotations. My overall interests are nitrogen fixation, crop rotation, intercropping, and nutrient cycles. 

Caledonia Valley experimental farm (courtesy UVI)
Next Stop: St. Croix
My advisor, Dr. Diane Rowland, teaches a class called Global Agroecosystems that I enrolled in for my first semester, fall 2016. One of the great things about this course is the large diversity of guest lecturers we had, and it was one of those lecturers that introduced me to the opportunity at UVI. Dr. Stuart Weiss is an agronomist there and gave us a guest lecture about his research into low-input agriculture in tropical systems, which involves a lot of crop rotation, intercropping, and the like, often incorporating nitrogen fixing crops. I came to UF with an existing history and interest in tropical regions, studying agricultural policy in West Africa in my undergraduate degree and doing a couple of basic on-farm volunteer experiences for a few months in Senegal and Jamaica. All of this combined to pique my interest in his work immediately. 

David Hensley in action at UF/IFAS Suwannee Valley Ag Extension Center
I'll be in St. Croix from mid-January to the end of April. Thankfully, their growing season is year-round, so I'll be exposed to plenty of activity during that time.

Looking Ahead 
Obviously it's hard not to get excited about traveling to a new place, especially one as beautiful as St. Croix. After Dr. Weiss' lecture, I googled some images of the island, and I couldn't believe how amazing it looked. I love being in the Caribbean, as I'm sure most anyone would, and I love tropical farms, too, so I am really excited about being back in the mix, with some formal agronomy experience this time, to see how it all works and get involved with it.

At work on a nutrient study in Live Oak, FL: Sienna Turner, Maria Zamora and David Hensley
At a basic level, getting some formal experience with tropical agriculture is enough for me. But I'm sure I'll meet that goal no matter what else happens. A more ambitious goal that I have is to walk away knowing a little more about what works in practice in low-input tropical systems as far as crop rotation and intercropping goes, and my ideal goal is to get a lot of information about the realities of nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation in that kind of system. I'm hoping for the best!

Editor's Note: Originally intended as a series of reports spanning the duration of Mr. Hensley's research assignment at UVI, this content will continue on a more Agronomy-focused digital platform. Read the next and final dispatch here

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