Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Dr Stephanie Montgomery braved the elements for PhD research on our project

Dr Stephanie Montgomery braved wildlife and the elements while completing her PhD on New Farming Systems for Upland Cropping in Northwest Cambodia. Her PhD was completed as part of our ACIAR project on crop and cattle systems in Cambodia. And as a reward for her outstanding research work Dr  Montgomery received the University medal earlier this year.

Dr Stephanie Montgomery with Cambodian farmers.
Even in a tropical farming system, water management is of the highest priority. Crop failure and low yields in the pre-monsoon period are common in Northwest Cambodia due to high temperatures and unpredictable rainfall. This PhD study was embedded in the ACIAR funded project ASEM/2010/049, which investigated options for integration of the crop and cattle systems in Northwest Cambodia.  In recognition of her work Dr Stephanie Montgomery received the Chancellor’s Doctoral Research Medal conferred by University of New England (UNE) in March this year. The outcomes of her research provide simple options for farmers in this important upland cropping zone to reduce the risk of crop failure, whilst simultaneously improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of their farming system.

Dr Montgomery in the field.
Stephanie recounts what it was like to undertake field research in a remote area of a developing country, “At certain periods throughout my studies, like all students, I wondered if I would ever submit . The apex of my data mountain seemed insurmountable, and the trials and tribulations along the way were never dull. The most memorable moments involved a corn cob tug-of-war with a macaque and a stand-off with a king cobra poised to strike. Furthermore, it seemed that all manner of creatures great and small including rats, civets, birds, insects, dogs and humans were keenly interested in eating my research.

Dr Montgomery and family at her graduation ceremony.
One day I arrived to find a family had set up a tent next to my trial and lit a campfire in one of my mulch plots! Every PhD has it challenges, but I think it is fair to say that working remotely from your supervisors and not having the standard access to resources that comes with studying in an Australian University, definitely adds several more levels in the challenge stakes. You have to be persistently creative, extremely patient and not easily surprised, yet I do feel the impact that this type of research for development can have is well worth the effort.”

Dr Montgomery weighing maize residue for mulch treatments
The most important recommendations from this study include the conversion to no-till farming and to shift sowing windows back two months to closer align sowing date with rainfall and residual soil moisture use efficiency. Further to this the importance of crop rotations and diversity in the crop sequence was quantified.

Sunflower is a new crop for the region and in rotation with maize produced significantly higher gross margin returns than the other rotations. Soybean is also considered an important legume to assist with the health of the rotation and in alleviating land degradation currently experienced under monoculture cropping of maize or cassava. The conversion to no-till farming in this environment is paramount and needs to occur urgently to ensure the longevity of this farming system, protection of the soil resource and stability of production.

Sunflowers: a new crop for Cambodia.

Stephanie is continuing to work in the region as part of her involvement in a new ACIAR project ASEM2013/003 which is investigating uptake of agricultural technologies and best practices amongst farmers in Battambang and Pailin provinces. Dr Montgomery is the Field Research Leader for this study, which is looking at agronomic techniques to increase the sustainability of cassava production whilst mitigating agroecological impacts on the natural resource base. Field research in year two of this project aims to reflect survey responses from regional farmer focus groups which the social science aspect of this project will conduct. Information will be gathered pertaining to what farmers want their farming system to look like and research implemented based on their vision.

Read more:
Thesis Title: New Farming Systems for Upland Cropping in Northwest Cambodia
Award: Chancellor’s Doctoral Research Medal, UNE Armidale
URL link to publication: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/21715

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