It has been recognised for some time that the World is facing a food security crisis, not just because of our growing population and the loss of crop land to the vagaries of climate change, but because there is a desperate shortage of crop protection specialists, and this is especially acute in the United Kingdom.
In 2015 the BBSRC, recognising the dearth of biological science students going on to further training in entomology, plant pathology, weed science and other areas associated with crop protection came up with a scheme called STARS aimed at getting undergraduates interested in some of these vulnerable skill sets. The crop protection specialists here at Harper Adams University put in a successful application to run a one week crop protection summer school (CROPSS) for fifteen students a year for three years. 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. The students had no previous experience of agriculture, let alone crop protection.
The Summer School started on Sunday afternoon, with an introduction from me as to why crop protection was important and how Integrated Pest Management is all about ecology, NOT spraying and eradication, something that needs to be reiterated loudly and often. 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 evenings 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, Professor 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; it turns out that 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…..