A couple of years ago, the BBSRC decided to scrap one of their most successful and inclusive PhD training awards, the iCASE. In their own words, BBSRC will no longer operate an annual competition for industrial CASE (iCASE) studentships, instead allocating the majority of these studentships to the BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) for awarding alongside their standard studentships. At one fell stroke the BBSRC reduced the diversity of their PhD portfolio by a significant amount and also dealt a huge blow to those of us working in crop protection, at a time when food security and the need to feed the world is of paramount importance. Later that year the BBSRC, possibly in response to those of us who kicked up a public fuss about the loss of the iCASE scheme came up with a very inadequately funded scheme called STARS aimed at getting undergraduates interested in some of the vulnerable skill sets that the BBSRC by their actions had made even more vulnerable. Despite the paltry amount of money available I felt that I had to apply, if only because having complained about lack of funding it would show lack of commitment to the cause 🙂 I duly applied putting forward an application to run a one week crop protection summer school for fifteen students a year for three years. I was successful and last week we ran our first CROPSS Summer School here at Harper Adams University. We particularly targeted first and second year undergraduates doing biology and ecology courses at other universities with little or no agricultural content in their degrees. Our participants came from the universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Liverpool and Swansea, and apart from one student who came from a farming family, they had no previous experience of agriculture, let alone crop protection.
The Summer School started on Sunday afternoon, with an introduction from me about why crop protection was important and how Integrated Pest Management is all about ecology, NOT spraying and eradication, something I have been banging on about for many years 🙂 This needs to be reiterated again and again and as loudly as possible. We then had an excellent dinner and I took them all to the bar where I cruelly subjected them to a Pub Quiz, all picture rounds. The first round was all about charismatic megafauna (almost all answered correctly), then dog breeds (about 75% correct), then common British wild flowers (about 60% correct), common British trees (40% correct), common British insects (30% correct), I think you can see where I am going with this 🙂
The week was divided up between agronomy, entomology, nematology, plant pathology, weed science and spray technology, with a mixture of lectures, field work and laboratory work. In the evening we had guest speakers from the different crop protection sectors, from the agrichemical industry through to government, our last speaker being the Chief Plant Health Officer, Nicola Spence. The external speakers had been asked to explain how they had ended up in their current positions and to talk about careers in those areas. I was very impressed with the willingness of the students to engage with the speakers and the questions they asked were extremely discerning.
We were very lucky to be blessed with excellent weather and the Harper Adams University Catering Department came in for very high praise indeed 🙂 apparently our catering is much better than at the universities represented by our delegates.
As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words…..
Catching insects in the Natural England plots
Sorting pitfall traps catches
Plant pathology in the brand new labs
Heading off with John Reade to sample weeds
Enjoying the sun and spotting weeds
Simon Woods from the Engineering Department explaining the fine points of knap sack sprayers
Andy Cherrill extolling the joys of motorised suction sampling
Enjoying the bar with one of the guest speakers, Neal Ward
All in all, we all had a good time, and if you don’t believe me here are some of the responses from the student feedback
The students were great, enthusiastic, engaged and we really enjoyed the course and are very much looking forward to seeing a new CROPSS cohort next year.
Finally, for those of you interested, here is the timetable of the week: