Living in Saint Croix Part.1

Currently David is working on an MS thesis degree in the agronomy department with an Agroecology concentration. He submitted his thesis proposal not long ago and now knows that his research is focused on the interaction between synthetic nitrogen fertilization and biological nitrogen fixation in crop rotations. His overall interests are nitrogen fixation, crop rotation, intercropping, and nutrient cycles. He left in January on a research trip to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in St. Croix, and will be doing research there up until the end of April 2017.

An overview of the island. The university can be seen as the buildings and fields in the middle

“As I get settled into my situation here in St. Croix and at UVI, a few first impressions stick out. I’ve never been to the U.S. Virgin Islands or St. Croix before, but I have spent time in Jamaica and Haiti, so I had some idea of what things might be like here. But it isn’t exactly like either of those places, I think partly because it’s a U.S. territory, and partly because of the size of the island. UVI, for example, is a small university compared to UF, but it has a lot more resources than universities I’ve visited in Haiti. The agronomy department here has greenhouses, tools, tractors, and all sorts of equipment. You do have to be something of a jack-of-all-trades, however, because it’s a smaller operation, but that’s okay, because it’s making me learn a lot! Overall I love UVI – it’s obviously a beautiful place!

The entrance to the farm where our experiment is located

Thankfully I’m already settling into a routine of work. So far it seems like I’m splitting my time about evenly between the field and the office, and that’s about right for me. The first week I got here, we set up a field trial that I’ll be working on during my time here, so on field days we go down a short distance away from the campus to the farmer’s field we’re using for the project and work on it.

The project itself is a study on West Indian pumpkin, or Calabaza, and okra under different weed-control and tillage treatments after a sunn hemp cover crop. One is conventionally tilled, the other is planted into furrows dug into the rolled over sunn hemp, used as a mulch, and the last is also under sunn hemp mulch with an additional mulch of hay. The idea is to see whether farmers can save themselves time and effort of weed control – which can be quite a challenge in the tropics – by using the thick stand of sunn hemp as a mulch. So far, so good. I’ve hardly seen any weeds coming up in the first two weeks, and the seeds have germinated and are coming along well.

The sun hemp seconds after it was rolled by the crimper making a pass

All of this kind of work is very exciting, because it, and other projects like it that Dr. Weiss (the agronomy program director) runs here at the AES (Agricultural Experiment Station) are designed to provide an empirical groundwork for the efficacy of lower-input management practices for the tropics. Farmers in the tropics tend to have fewer resources than typical farmers back home, and on small islands like St. Croix, imports of any inputs can be a much more significant challenge. As a result, projects like this are a fascinating piece of the puzzle to work out alternatives that might suit these conditions the best. I can’t say much about the results of the project yet because we just got it going, but I am excited to watch it develop.

Pumpkin coming up from seed just after germination. The drip irrigation line runs along the field

I’m already learning a lot because of how diverse the activities are here, and this experience has already helped me broaden my horizons beyond the kinds of research I’m familiar with back at UF.”