December 18, 2019

Patrick Skilleter: Summer Training Event

In June of 2019, the second cohort of CTP students undertook their first summer training event, held at the University of Warwick over the course of three days. Dr. Rosemary Collier, director of the Warwick Crop Centre, led the event, which included industrial visits, lectures, and a team building exercise.

The day was a guest lecture and workshop, given by Dr. Martine Barons (Director of the Applied Statistics and Risk Unit at the University of Warwick). It revolved around overcoming the difficulties of decision making in multi-faceted, dynamic environments (the world we live in, for example), when direct evidence is incomplete, insufficient, or near impossible to produce. The example given was predicting the effects of environmental changes on the abundance of key pollinators, such as bees.

This was an issue that Dr. Barons herself faced and resolved using the IDEA protocol, which is a novel system coined by Hanea et al., (2017). This involves multiple experts in the field of interest first Investigating the issue themselves to answer questions such as “In years with abnormal weather, what is the probability of the population of honey bees will remain good?” asked by the lead anonymously. The questions are answered with a lower plausible estimate, an upper plausible estimate. After this, the experts then Discuss their answers with each other, finding weak points in each other’s ideas and putting forward data and information others may be unaware of with the aim of improving the previously given answers. After this debate, the experts then anonymously put forward their new Estimate for each question in the same manner as the first time. Finally, the lead then Aggregates these estimations into a single answer to each question. This technique was successful in helping to produce a model of environmental effects and their effect on pollinator abundance, also helping to understand precisely which factors have the greatest effects (Barons et al., 2018). After this lecture, the students partook in a workshop where they attempted to create their own model for predicting pollinator numbers, which proved an unusual challenge and provided an excellent opportunity to come face to face with the latest modelling techniques.

The second day began with a visit to Waitrose fruit supplier Primafruit Ltd. at their Evesham headquarters. Here, the cohort were introduced to the realities of supplying fresh fruit year round whilst also learning more about the innovative fruit varieties Primafruit supply. A tour of their packing facility was also given to the students, showing the journey the fruit takes through the facility from arrival, to quality control, packaging and delivery, followed by lunch.

Several members of the cohort in the Primafruit factory along with Dr. Collier (second left) and guide (second right). Hairnets were required to ensure proper food hygiene.

The afternoon included a visit to a local farmer to find out more about how local produce was grown and sold, as well as more about how the political climate is impacting the production and cost of locally grown produce. For example, the 2019 season in particular has farmers finding great difficulty in finding sufficient cheap migrant labour for harvesting. Finally, the cohort had a brief visit to the Warwick Crop Centre itself, where they were provided with a tour of ongoing experiments, as well as the UK Vegetable Genebank: a collection of around 14,000 seed samples stored for conservation and research purposes.

That evening, the cohort used their excellent teamwork, reasoning skills and their attention to detail to participate in an escape room. The cohort successfully completed the escape room in 52 minutes and 34 seconds, well under the maximum time of 1 hour, and a feat not often beaten.