Erin Doughtie

Vertical farming bags with plans growing.

Erin Doughtie is a first year PhD student in agronomy with a concentration in agroecology and USDA national needs fellow recipient. She received her MSC in agriculture and development from the University of Reading, UK. As a part of completing her MSC, Erin participated in an industrial placement opportunity with Real IPM in Thika, Kenya. While in Kenya, Erin worked on vertical bag farming, finding ways to combat the struggle of producing food for small urban and rural farmers. Levels of agriculture productivity are relatively low due to the degraded soil and high levels of evaporation. Agriculture in Kenya largely is rain fed, so growers plant their crop when they know the rain season will come. However, if the weather shifts or does not go as predicted it positions growers in a stressful situation.

“While in Kenya I was immersed in applied agronomy,” said Erin. “You had to look at the bigger picture and see how everything is and would be impacted.”

Erin’s passion for helping people drove her to pursue her MSC and PhD. Before enrolling in the University of Reading, Erin worked in Atlanta, Georgia, as a volunteer coordinator for the Atlanta Family Food Bank. While working there she was able to interact and meet with people from all over the world. She worked in community gardens and observed the impact it had on refugees and people immigrating to the U.S.

“The community garden allowed people to provide for themselves in a small way by growing extra food to sell or eat,” said Erin. “It showed me the how growing food can bring people independence.”

Erin’s corn for the field trial.

Erin is currently running her first year of field trials for her Ph.D., working on corn. This trial aims to identify how different water treatments affect the physiology of the crop, and if it can be linked to yield. Her trial has been planted in March and will last until the corn reaches maturity, in July at the earliest. Erin is growing her corn in four different types of conditions, or treatments: one is the “control” (without any water deficit), two with water deficits, and one with primed acclimation to create an early season stress using antitranspirants. This early season stress should cause that particular group of corn to grow its roots farther into the soil, which would allow it to increase its water uptake later in the season. Erin will compare how this corn develops alongside the deficits and control. A lateral irrigation system with valve rate irrigation is used to control the amount of water dispersed. During the trial, gas exchange rate in the leaves, root development, sap flow and yield are going to be recorded to identify any differences in physiological responses among the different groups of corn. This information can be potentially useful to farmers to aid in maximizing their yield in water limited conditions.