On-field Agroecosystem Research Experience: An Undergraduate Perspective
Author: Elysee Ndayishimiye, Japhet Dushimeyesu, Yvon Ukwishaka, Chittaranjan Ray, David Fleisher, Dennis Timlin, Vangimalla Reddy, and Arindam Malakar,
Undergraduate hands-on research can foster innovation and critical thinking among young scholars to delve into real-world challenges. Specifically, exploring the critical nexus between water usage and agricultural yield, can foster academic growth and holds the key to addressing global food security in an era of increasing environmental constraints, where students can unlock insights crucial to enhancing crop yield and sustainability. Investigating the intricate relationship between water management and crop productivity through undergraduate research is exemplified in this article. Undergraduate students acquired hands-on research experience by collecting, processing, and analyzing destructive (crop biomass samples) and non-destructive (plant height, nodes, and leaf chlorophyll content) cropping system data on soybeans under irrigated and dryland production systems, where they worked closely with the farmer. Identifying the current research problem and study site selection, scientific decision-making during the field study, developing critical thinking while ensuring research communication skills, and quality assurance and quality control through technology during data collection and analysis were learning outcomes. The research highlights the observed distinct performance between irrigated and non-irrigated soybeans using non-destructive plant health and growth indicators with plant biomass, following appropriate quality control and assurance steps. Statistically, irrigated soybeans outperformed non-irrigated soybeans in terms of average plant height at maturity (irrigated: 97.0±1.7 cm vs. non-irrigated: 37.4±0.6 cm; p<0.01) and number of nodes on the mainstem (irrigated: 19.5±1.2 vs. non-irrigated: 12.6±0.8; p<0.01). Findings from this study can help ensure quality control and assurance in future cropping system projects. Through the agroecosystem study, we exhibit the importance and role of undergraduate research opportunities in developing the next generation of problem solvers.
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