PLANT SCIENCE CDT: The land use and environmental impacts of a dietary shift from cow’s milk to oat milk in the UK

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Pete Smith, Prof Jennie Macdiarmid, Prof Jo Smith  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Applications are invited for this exciting, fully-funded, 42 month PhD studentship at the University of Aberdeen. This project is part of the newly established Anthony & Margaret Johnston Centre for Doctoral Training in Plant Sciences enabled by a generous legacy gift.

Project Description

Over the last 5 years, there has been a rapid increase in the amount of oat milk purchased in the UK, now making up 50% of milk alternatives and worth £146.8 million. For many people, oat milk is used to replace cow’s milk and is often preferred for its environmental benefits due to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with dairy production. Oats are also associated with benefits to human health by lowering blood cholesterol and reducing the risks of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases1,2 The ultimate outcome of a change in consumer choice will be to reduce the number of dairy cows, and so also the production of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Much of the oat milk drunk in the UK is currently imported, so the UK is exporting its potential greenhouse gas emission reductions, and also any associated environmental trade-offs. To better understand the wider implications of converting to oat milk, increased production of oats within the UK should be considered. This could also provide added value to existing producers of oat crops within Scotland, and potentially allow for an expansion of current production. The aim of the current project is to examine the impact of producing oat milk instead of cow’s milk within the UK, estimating the potential for oat milk production in different areas and assessing the impact that conversion from cow’s milk might have on land use, fertilizer use, the carbon stocks of soils, water use and greenhouse gas emissions relative to the nutrition provided.

The project will:

  1. Examine trends in oat milk consumption in the UK, quantifying the oats needed and estimating the projected requirements for oats over the next 10 years. This will account for feedbacks in the system due to reductions in the use of oats as animal feeds.
  2. Compile a spatially explicit database of the potential yields of oats across the UK. This will draw on soils and climate databases as well as existing trials on oats and, farming records and bioclimatic envelope modelling for current and future climate.
  3. Develop possible land use scenarios for producing the oats required to meet the existing and projected demand. Different scenarios will be developed, specifying different environmental, farming and land use aspirations through sets of rules; for example whether areas currently under grassland can be used to grow oats.
  4. Estimate changes in fertiliser use, water use, soil carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the different scenarios using a combination of dynamic simulation models and recommended management practices.
  5. Assess changes in the nutritional benefits associated with a hectare of land of producing dairy or oat milk in different regions across the UK.

Candidate Background:

Applicants are expected to hold (or be about to achieve) at least a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or Equivalent) in a relevant subject (environmental, agricultural, food science or related subject). Applicants with a 2:2 Honours degree (or Equivalent) may be considered providing they have a Distinction or Commendation at Master’s level.

We encourage applications from all backgrounds and communities, and are committed to having a diverse, inclusive team.

Informal enquiries are encouraged. Please contact Professor Pete Smith ([Email Address Removed]) for further information.



  • Formal applications can be completed online:
  • You should apply for Biological Sciences (PhD) to ensure your application is passed to the correct team.
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application, it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Please include a cover letter specific to the project you are applying for, an up-to-date copy of your academic CV, undergraduate and postgraduate educational certificates and full transcripts.
  • Please note: you DO NOT need to provide a research proposal with this application
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.
  • If you require any additional assistance in submitting your application or have any queries about the application process, please don't hesitate to contact us at [Email Address Removed]
Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13) Food Sciences (15)

Funding Notes

This 42 Month, fully-funded PhD project is part of the Anthony & Margaret Johnston Centre for Doctoral Training in Plant Sciences at the University of Aberdeen.
This opportunity is open to Home and International students and includes full funding to cover tuition fees and a stipend for living costs (£18,622 For the 23/24 academic year. The rate for 24/25 AY has not yet been set).
Funding for international students does not cover visa costs (either for yourself or for accompanying family members), immigration health surcharge or any other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
The expected start date is October 2024.


1) Marcela Porto Costa, Sophie Saget, Beate Zimmermann, Eckart Petig, Elisabeth Angenendt, Robert M. Rees, David
Chadwick, James Gibbons, Shailesh Shrestha, Michael Williams, David Styles 2023. Environmental and land use
consequences of replacing milk and beef with plant-based alternatives. Journal of Cleaner Production, 424, 138826.
2) Chen, J. and Raymond, K. 2008. Beta-glucans in the treatment of diabetes and associated cardiovascular risks. Vasc
Health Risk Manag 4 p.1265-1272.
3) Maki, K.C., Galant, R. et al 2007. Effects of consuming foods containing oat beta-glucan on blood pressure, carbohydrate
metabolism and biomarkers of oxidative stress in men and women with elevated blood pressure. European Journal of
Clinical Nutrition 61 p.786-795.

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