The residents of Radix Nova, part 3: Niels Anten

Directly behind Radix is a new building, Radix Nova, into which four chair groups have quietly moved during the pandemic. . As part of a series of articles meeting the new occupants we talk to Niels Anten, Professor of Crop & Weed Ecology: “Radix Nova offers a peaceful environment where we can really focus on our work.”

Volleyball and jeu-de-boules

Niels Anten, Professor of Crop & Weed Ecology
Niels Anten, Professor of Crop & Weed Ecology

Although Niels Anten has not been visiting Nova as often as he would like in these days of ‘working from home’, he is keen to spend more of his working hours there once the COVID measures are eased. “While it may be a less striking building than Radix visually, Nova has everything we need as a workplace. It is a very peaceful environment in which you can fully focus. And, once the weather improves, we can use the picnic tables outside or play a game of volleyball or jeu-de-boules.”

Niels is clearly not homesick for the more bustling Radix, no matter how good that building looks. Yes, Nova is still a little difficult for visitors to find and the temporary route from Radix via the mailroom and bicycle shed is complicated. And perhaps it also still lacks a proper space for brainstorming or relaxing – there’s always a wish list to fulfil.

Working together

The decision to place four chair groups in one new building has proven well-founded. “We work together a lot so it makes good sense to be close to each other. My chair group is interested in the interaction between plants, for example. Agriculture has taught us that mixed cropping makes plants more resistant to pathogens, more efficient and may even allow them to produce higher yields. Together with Ken Giller’s chair group Plant Production Systems we are studying whether cocoa and coffee cultivation can be combined with other crops such as banana and coconut. The cocoa and coffee industries are contributing to heavy deforestation, while the production is less than a tenth of what should be possible.”

Niels and his colleagues are studying the possibilities of mixed cropping in the Netherlands, too, working with the Farming Systems Ecology chair group led by Rogier Schulte. “Mixed cropping remains quite rare in the Netherlands because the system is simply not aligned to it. Our farmers have invested in technology for monosystems, which means that the market for that technology is stable.”

In partnership with Paul Struik’s Crop Physiology group, Niels is synthesising ecological and physiological research in one centre (Crop Systems Analysis) to build a bridge between lab research and sustainable agriculture. The four Nova groups are focused on systems from around the globe: “In Europe the emphasis is often on reducing environmental impact and minimising CO2 footprints, while in Africa system change primarily focuses on improving living conditions combined with environmental measures. There are common denominators, such as less toxins and reducing CO2 emissions, but the buttons to be pushed differ. That’s why sharing a building is so much productive.”

No more fulltime office

While Nova is still quiet in these pandemic times, the halls will be more occupied when possible. “It’s nice to work in a calm environment. Working in the office fulltime won’t be returning insofar as we ever did in the first place.” Niels is looking forward to welcoming colleagues from other locations to Nova, although it must be made easier to find. “I recently came across a box of chocolates on my desk sent to thank me for a successful cooperation. It had taken two months to get there from Lumen!”