Third year dissertation research
The title of my BSc dissertation was “When used as a break crop, how does hemp vary its ecological surroundings, compared with oilseed rape or field beans?” I looked at the variations in ecological conditions caused by the growth of the different break crops: including soil moisture, percentage light below crop, worm count and weed diversity / percentage cover.
Hemp is a relatively new addition to the break crop family and its effects upon surrounding field ecological conditions are relatively unknown. Studies into the qualities of hemp have been conducted in the UK, and the USA, but these have not encompassed the array of ecological variables which have been focused upon in this research.
Despite a skewing of results due to the growing season’s extremely dry conditions (in summer 2011), my research concluded that hemp‘s superior ability to suppress weeds (due to its light-shading foliage and interaction with soil ecology) appears to be justified, and as a break crop this is a very desirable attribute.
I conducted my dissertation research as part of a study for the Allerton Project which operates under the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). They research the effects of farming on wildlife and the environment, disseminating their results through educational activities. The Trust conducts original applied science with field based ecological studies. The organisation grew the study crops and also collected additional data themselves. These data, along with my results, were compiled into a poster and a conference paper, with overall findings published in Stoate, C., Szczur, J. & Partridge, J. (2012). The ecology of hemp production relative to alternative break crops. In: McCracken, K. (ed.) Valuing Ecosystems: Policy, Economic and Management Interactions: 264-269. Scottish Agricultural College & Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Edinburgh.
The overall Allerton study observed not only the break crops, but also the bird and invertebrate interactions with them. The study concluded that the wildlife benefits of hemp appear to be broadly comparable to other crops, whilst also contributing to multiple other ecosystem services.