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A selection index to identify clover varieties of enhanced agronomic value

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr C Meharg, Prof A Meharg  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Project theme:

The key objective is to identify elite clover varieties capable of enhancing the economic and environmental efficiency of grass-based ruminant production.      

Project aims:

To enhance current white clover variety evaluation protocols and devise a new red clover scheme, by developing new test methods for novel traits in nitrogen fixation and nutritive quality. To create a world first ‘Clover Profit Index’ (CPI), to identify superior clovers and promote their use on commercial farms and redirect breeding strategy.


Animal production from perennial ryegrass and clover can improve production efficiency and increase profitability on Irish farms. Additionally, clovers reduce artificial nitrogen input, mitigating adverse effects on the environment. Increasing the level of clover adoption on farms is a key action that will help Ireland achieve its 51% emission reduction targets by 2018-2030 and net-zero by 2050.  The perennial ryegrass, Pasture Profit Index (PPI) is an evaluation and selection tool, developed in 2015, to rank varieties on the additional profit generated by their performance.  The highest performing variety in 2015 was +€208 while in 2022 was +€253, indicating the genetic gain achieved in this short time period. Large industry support of the PPI has been evident with the top-ranking varieties commanding larger demand on commercial farms.  Following on from this success, a similar clover selection index is required to refocus clover variety selection and breeding decisions.

Research Plan:              

Field-based experimentation will identify morphophysiological traits in clover that impact beneficially on plant-animal interactions. This will involve both plant and animal studies to assess the efficiency of sward growth and grazing ingestion and optimise the balance between nitrogen use efficiency and enteric methane loss per unit of livestock product. Through proof-of-concept studies a CPI will be developed to quantify and rank the carbon footprint (CF) and economic value (EV) potential of clover varieties, similar to the ryegrass PPI. By quantifying the diversity among clovers, the CPI is expected to deliver changes in reseeding and sward management practices for individual farms, inform breeders of traits to improve for CF/EV gains, and support Ireland in meeting its GHG targets.

Student Development: 

The successful student will join the research team at Teagasc Moorepark. They will receive training in a wide range of transferable skills, including field and laboratory research techniques, statistical analyses, scientific writing, and presentation skills. There will also be opportunity to present to international conferences as well as local farmers, breeders and industry. The student will gain highly sought-after expertise and knowledge in GHG mitigation towards a carbon-neutral agriculture.


A BSc 2.1 equivalent or better in Biological Sciences or a related subject. Knowledge and undergraduate or farm experience in grassland agronomy will be an advantage. The student will register for a PhD at Queen's University Belfast School of Biological Sciences and be based at Teagasc Moorepark, with training at Queen's.

Supervisors: Dr Caroline Meharg and Professor Andy Meharg (Queen's University School of Biological Sciences/Institute for Global Food Security), Professor Trevor Gilliland, and Drs Michael O'Donovan and Tomas Tubritt (Teagasc, Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, County Cork).

Duration: 4 years

How to apply: Applications must be submitted via:

For informal discussion on the study or your suitability contact: Dr O’Donovan ([Email Address Removed]) or Professor Gilliland ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be awarded a four-year, fully funded Teagasc Walsh studentship which includes a monthly stipend.
Applicants must qualify for "Home" fees at Queen's University Belfast:
- UK national and ordinarily resident in the UK for three years prior to September 2022;
- Non-UK national ordinarily resident in the UK for three years prior to September 2022, with settled status or indefinite leave to remain in the UK;
- Irish national resident in the Republic of Ireland (provisional - subject to publication of Northern Ireland Assembly student fees regulations).
For further information, please see:

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Sciences?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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