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Passion for plant pathology leads to research degree

Posted 4 July 2013

I have learnt that research isn’t always predictable, but that’s why it is so exciting.

Alex McCormack

A passion for plant pathology has helped to secure agriculture student, Alexander McCormack, a PhD studentship at Harper Adams University and a spot in a specialist journal, all months before graduation.

The 22-year-old from Selby in North Yorkshire is preparing to submit his final research project, which investigates the effect of temperature on the efficacy of a biological crop protection product used as a seed treatment on potatoes.

Alex, who is studying BSc (Hons) Agriculture and Crop Management, has conducted a series of controlled environment studies in the teaching laboratories on campus during the past six months.

He said: “Increasingly legislation is placing pressure on the products previously used in this role of crop protection, leading to potential restrictions in future use.

“This has lead to an increased interest in biocides and holistic methods with the use of natural biological organisms and plant species to provide a sustainable method for the future.

“This project should give farmers more understanding of how biological products could be used to help manage soil borne diseases found in their potato fields.”

Alex’s appetite for crops began when he started field walking alongside an agronomist, whilst working at a free-range egg unit before starting his degree.

Despite not being from a traditional farming background, it was his interest in science and its application to agriculture that drove him to study an agriculture degree at Harper Adams in Shropshire.

His desire to work within this role with crops then escalated when he spent his placement year at Chemtura AgroSolutions, working as part of the field trials team at their site in Evesham.

Alex said: “I have really enjoyed my degree. It has taught me new skills and my dissertation has certainly challenged me.

“Most importantly, I have learnt that research isn’t always predictable, but that’s why it is so exciting.”

When away from university, Alex has been spending his time gaining valuable experience both on farm and in research.

He has spent holidays lambing, calving and working for a potato farmer. He was also awarded a British Society of Plant Pathology (BSPP) summer studentship at the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in York with Dr James Woodhall.

It is findings from work conducted here that led to Alex having a ‘New Disease Report’ published in the prestigious NDR journal by the BSPP.

Alex added: “It seems like everything I have been doing has led to me work in plant pathology and now I have been officially notified that I have secured a PhD studentship in plant pathology, at Harper.

“This will be looking at soil-borne diseases of oilseed rape and their role in yield decline.

“I have been told that it’s thanks to the research experience that I gained at FERA, along with other work including my dissertation and placement project that I stood out from other candidates.”

Alex will graduate from his degree in September and begin his PhD in October, working alongside a research team at Harper Adams University. His work will be sponsored by the HGCA, the Morley Agricultural Foundation and the Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trust.

 

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