Scheme: University Research Fellowship
Organisation: University of Southampton
Dates: Oct 2004-Mar 2013
Summary: Every allotment holder and gardener will know that there are essentially two things one can do to increase the yield of crops and vegetables. First is to amend the soil by applying fertilizers, using compost, finding the perfect watering regime for ones plants, deal with the pests etc. Another way is to choose the plants that are particularly thriving in the given soil and climate environment. On the small allotment scale, one usually modifies both, environment and plants grown. What strategy is most effective gets found out by trial and error and by talking to the neighbours at the allotment site. This combination of experience and intuition is essentially how farmers have built up their knowledge base and how they have made their decisions for hundreds and thousands of years. However, my work uses modelling and optimistion to guide this decision making.
Fertilisation of soils has been the driving force behind the increase in agricultural productivity in the last hundred years. However, heavy fertilisation creates problems of pollution in the developed countries, and the developing countries cannot typically afford the fertilisers. Thus, generally it is acknowledged now that the reduction of fertiliser inputs is essential for sustainable use of natural resources. Inaddition, it has been estimated that mineral phosphate resources will run out in the entire world within next 50-100 years. So weather one wants or not, alternatives to fertilisation need to be found since renewable fertiliser products are going to be less available and more expensive.
Whilst nobody in the UK has to rely on their allotment to produce all/any of their food, there is a real lack of food in the world with the developing countries that rely heavily on local agriculturalproduction and thus these are the regions facing biggest shortages. In fact the food security has been acknowledged as one of the most crucial challenges facing the ever increasing human population.