B.A. Geography and Chinese, Colgate University
Broadly, I am interested in gaining knowledge that will enable me to become part of a movement to create a more sustainable global food system – one that does not degrade the environment on which it depends, provides plenty of nutritious food for generations to come, and is economically profitable for the producers. My passion comes from reading about the many problems with the current system. One major problem that is of particular concern to me is the addiction to chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers have allowed for the neglect of working with natural nutrient cycling (e.g. planting nitrogen-fixing crops in a crop rotation with crops that require a high amount of nitrogen). As a result, soils are left bare and stripped of organic matter and life, becoming merely a vesicle for chemical fertilizer that is increasingly less capable of holding on to nutrients. To compensate, higher rates of chemical fertilizer are applied to fields each year, leading to higher consumption of fossil fuel, polluting waterways via leaching, and costing the producers more and more. In the mean time, the bare soils are left exposed to the elements and susceptible to erosion that can impact yields, reduce water infiltration, and further degrade soil health. These are just some of the problems caused by the industrialized agricultural system on which much of the world depends. If we want to feed future generations, something clearly needs to change.
I am interested in sustainable agriculture as a solution. In college at Colgate University I studied the implementation of sustainable agriculture from a social science perspective, as a Geography major. With a double major in Chinese, I became fluent in Chinese and was able to pursue my interest of sustainable agriculture in China, first on a research grant from Colgate and then on a Fulbright Scholarship. Through my research in China, where I was interviewing small-scale farmers about their farming practices, I decided that I wanted to understand the science behind agricultural sustainability. When I returned to the US, I applied to graduate programs in agronomy and sustainable agriculture. I hope that the knowledge I gain at Cornell as a master’s student in agronomy will allow me to pursue a career in the implementation of sustainable agriculture in China as well as in other developing countries.
At Cornell, I am working on an experiment comparing different cover crop management strategies in corn and soybean rotations. The treatments include a no-till treatment that is roller-crimped, a plow down treatment in which all the cover crop biomass is plowed in before planting, a “rye-lage” treatment in which rye is harvested for fodder and the remaining stubble is plowed under before planting, and a control treatment that was not planted with a cover crop. I plan on comparing these treatments from several angles, including soil health, water infiltration and run-off, economics, weed suppression, crop yield, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.