Last week of August has been a bit hectic. I had barely completed the field sampling in the Pyrenees for the 2019 season, I had just entrusted my walking shoes to the shoemaker for repair (yes, the rocky paths of the Pyrenees are merciless), that I flew to Vienna. Vienna, Austria. The city of the waltz, the Empress Sissi, the Sachertorte, the birthplace of Konrad Lorenz (Nobel Prize winner). And also the workplace of my colleagues Christoph Plutzar, Claudine Egger and Andreas Mayer, at BOKU (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences).
But what did I come to Vienna for? Remember, a year ago, Claudine and Andreas came to Ariège in the Pyrenees for two weeks to interview experts and farmers (if you don't check here here and here). Our research project P3 is a multi- and inter-disciplinary project which brings together experts as varied as hydrologists, geochemists, microbiologists, eco-toxicologists, palynologists and disease ecologists. Thanks to the Molup project, a spin-off of the P3 project, we also welcome on board a group of (eco-) sociologists. The strength of the project is that we all contribute with our expertise and we work in synergy in order to bridge gaps in mountain ecosystem research. It is the essence of the project. Above all, it is also a wonderful experience as a researcher, indeed I have not had such a great opportunity to learn from other researchers and to improve my scientific knowledge since my time as a student.
Last year, spending two weeks with my sociologist colleagues Claudine and Andreas was incredibly enriching. I’ve learnt to conduct structured and semi-structured interviews with experts and farmers. The objective was to obtain a reliable picture of agricultural practices in Ariège. In addition to the expert interviews, we conducted interviews with farmers in order to understand their work, their methods, their motivations, their difficulties, and gather their opinions on a whole range of things related to their work. Interestingly, when we were approaching farmers, they were very modest and shy, surprised that we would ask them questions because “I am not an expert”, most of them said humbly. “You are the best expert to explain us how you work”, was always my answer.
So now, it was time to discuss the progress of the sociologist team. I was quite curious to see how our work in interviewing experts and farmers can translate into a model, with the aim to make projections to the future according to several scenarios.
In the very hot and humid air of Vienna, we discussed updates from P3, data collection, model input data (data to feed the model) and model construction, links between climate change and cattle diseases, summer pastures, gross margin, subsidies, land-use change matrix, farming styles and decision-making, as well as the different scenarios for model projections until 2050 (or longer).
As it was the first time I set foot in Vienna (and Austria), I took the opportunity to combine the pleasant with the useful by walking through the old city. Vienna is a concentrate of architectural refinement, culture and history, and I am very happy that I could taste its delicious atmosphere.