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Romanian crop scientist Sorin Vatca: Preparing for climate change

Interview by Erminia Ciarleglio, DLG

Plants themselves can respond very well to the changing conditions that confront them, believes plant physiologist Sorin Vatca, assistant professor in crop science, Cluj Napoca University for Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine (USAMV) situated some 370 km north of the Romanian capital Bucharest. This DLG member recognises changing weather conditions as a major challenge confronting crop scientists. He emphasises that ideas for research in his field often come from the growers themselves. He’s a scientist who also appreciates the advantages of online research and communication, including the wide range of information and products promoted this summer in »DLG Feldtage Digital 2020: Meeting Point for Crop Professionals«

Sorin Vatca, what’s the main focus of your research?

Actually, I have wide interests throughout the plant world. But my fellow scientists and I in the crop science department often spotlight plant physiological processes, mechanisms and manifestations: their responses to change, adaptation and solutions for survival. Agricultural and horticultural species have priority in my research. Climate change and its effects in the fields are of great interest. Much research and many studies I undertake have been proposed by farmers. Their own ideas on solving crop problems are always interesting and valuable.

What inspired you most in persuing your current career?

Mainly the changes I saw, and continue to notice, in my chosen field. Particularly in crop production, these have been continual. With my students and colleagues there’s always discussion on food production and the challenges of a changing environment. This is where the ideas for research come from, with subsequent planning of research programmes and publication of results. I am also inspired by the seasons of the year and especially those moments when they change. Of course, my family is also a great inspiration!

How do you rate research funding in Romania?

Starting from the concept that scientific research is not a commercial activity, and this research must be financed from the state budget, I consider that scientific research in our country is underfunded. There’s also access to EU funding and this is based on competition within the community.

What are the challenges facing farming in Romania?

In the EU, Romania is the eighth largest agricultural producer. But we are in the last position when it comes to application of technology and mechanisation in farming. I believe that supporting farmers in creating markets for their products and in capital investment towards producing a sound, healthy diet for the population in a competitive way are among the aspects that must be considered by our politicians.

For a career in crop research, what should be the educational aims of a biology student with the challenging future for crop production in mind?

Employers look for applicants with hard skills and soft skills. Candidates must know how to demonstrate their abilities in this respect. Hard skills are teachable abilities, in the university or on the job. the job and easy for an employer or recruiter to recognise. Soft skills are subjective, much harder to quantify and related to interpersonal abilities. Regardless of whether the student becomes biologist, engineer or astronaut, he or she needs both skills equally.