Farmers are increasingly interested in soil health, biological methods of increasing soil fertility, and reducing the need for synthetic inputs; an approach often referred to as regenerative agriculture. A key principle of regenerative agriculture is minimising soil disturbance. Intensive soil disturbance is caused during conventional potato growing – tillage, bed-forming, destoning, planting and harvesting, accompanied by soil compaction by heavy machinery. Due to the need for a significant break between potato crops, much of the UK potato crop is grown on short-term rented land but landowners are increasingly likely to resist renting land for potatoes due to concerns with soil health. Access to land presents a threat to the UK potato industry, which is worth £824M (2020 value), employs >16,000 people and delivers a large amount of carbohydrate for UK consumers, making it a significant market.
Creating deep, destoned seedbeds on soils with stones/clods is currently deemed necessary within the potato and root crop industries to reduce tuber/root damage and misshapen produce, and to improve harvesting speed, but the process involves intensively sieving large soil volumes (>3k m3/ha). The intensity and frequency of potato cultivation operations are generally deemed to be unfavourable to soil health and do not fit in with the current drive towards regenerative agriculture and Net Zero. Rapid innovation is necessary to preserve and enhance UK potato/root crop production and maintain UK food security/supply-chain stability.
OBJECTIVES AND APPROACHES
The aim of this PhD is to conduct a detailed study on the effect of sustainable cultivations and reduced soil destoning versus the conventional approaches in potato production on conventional and regenerative soil systems. This project will link to other industry-academic collaborative research, in which both Harper Adams University and PepsiCo are partners. PepsiCo, through their potato grower and equipment manufacturer relationships, will provide experimental plots, to allow the effects of sustainable cultivations (i.e. reduced depth and intensity of tillage with and without destoning) versus the conventional approaches (i.e. deep primary tillage, bedforming, bedtilling and destoning) to be evaluated.
There are two hypotheses underpinning this PhD studentship:
- Reduced soil cultivations for potato production have the potential to improve soil health whilst maintaining good crop yield and quality.
- Managing soils using regenerative practices (no-till/reduced tillage/diverse rotation) improves their resilience and ability to recover more rapidly after a potato crop.
The objectives of this work are to:
- Conduct detailed assessment of the impact of cultivation systems on soil health, resilience and ecosystem functions.
- Conduct detailed GHG emission measurements from potato production under different cultivation systems.
- Monitor the effect of different cultivation systems on soil health, recovery and consecutive crop growth at both conventional and regenerative field sites.
- Recommend improved soil cultivation practices for both potato and arable production to maintain crop yields and quality, and improve soil health, resilience and ecosystem functions.
The PhD student will study the effect of individual soil cultivation processes across two commercial farms (conventional and regenerative) over 2-years using replicated (6 replicates) experiments. The effect of these will be monitored for 24 months following the potato crop to assess soil resilience and recovery after potato production.
PRIMARY LOCATION OF THIS PHD
This PhD will be based and registered with Harper Adams University.
Students will have access to training opportunities through their University to complement their scientific development. This will be augmented by training in key bioscience areas such as statistics through the CTP-SAI.
This project will give the student experience in plant physiology, soil and crop assessments, GHG measurements, commercial field experiments, collaborating with a commercial sponsor and with a large national research programme. The placement within PepsiCo’s R&D Ag Science team will give the student the opportunity to engage with a large-scale commercial enterprise and understand the application of R&D within an industry setting.
There will be additional skills training to enhance employability and research capability. All CTP-SAI students will receive Graduate Training in Leadership and Management from MDS (www.mds-ltd.co.uk). Additionally, students will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring pertinent to their career plans and skills development in addition to the scientific project supervision.
Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.
APPLICATION AND ELIGIBILITY
Contact Dr Paula Misiewicz for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD. Visit
Paula’s profile page for more information.
Beginning in October 2023, the successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant or Soil Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.
We welcome UK, EU, and international applicants. Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. Candidates should check the requirements for each host organization they are applying to, but IELTS 6.5 (with no component below 6.0) or equivalent is usually the minimum standard.
Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 6th January 2023. Interviews will take place at the end of January/beginning of February 2023.
Please contact [Email Address Removed] for further application details.