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The impact of peat free compost alternatives on the physical, nutritional and sensory quality of kale

   School of Agriculture, Policy and Development

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  Dr L Bell, Dr Lael Walsh, Dr Tijana Blanusa, Dr Dilip Rai  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Peat is a finite resource that has been exploited by the horticulture industry, leading to damage of peatland habitats. Peat products are being phased out in the UK and Ireland and replaced with peat-free alternatives, such as biochar, coir, and bark composts. As peat-based growing media have been used for so long in vegetable crop production, it is unknown what the impacts of this transition will be on crop quality.

This prestigious Walsh Scholarship will study the impacts of peat withdrawal on kale; a popular leafy vegetable grown in peat-based media before transplantation into field productions. The successful applicant will study diverse kale types and the effects growing media has on their physiology, biochemistry, and sensory quality. The aim of the research is to provide recommendations to growers on the optimal peat-free alternative for Brassica transplants that gives rise to healthy, uniform, and nutritionally dense crops. This will benefit the Brassica community and act as a proof of concept for other horticultural crops that have traditionally been reliant on peat-based media in their production. This exciting project will allow the successful student to make a significant research impact and make direct contributions towards the sustainability of horticulture in the UK and Ireland.

The work will be conducted at the University of Reading School of Agriculture, Policy & Development; a world-renowned institution ranked 11th Agriculture & Forestry Research Universities (QS World Subject Rankings, 2022). The student will have the opportunity to study at TEAGASC – the Agriculture and Food Development Authority of Ireland – with experts in sustainable crop production and food composition analysis. There will be opportunities to interact with the UK’s largest gardening/horticultural charity, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The successful student will learn to use a variety of advanced techniques to establish the biochemical responses of seedlings to peat-based and peat-free growing media, and how this impacts postharvest quality.

Over the course of the project the student will have the opportunity to attend international conferences and meet experts in horticulture and food production industries through the Vegetable Genetic Improvement Network (VeGIN). The student will join an active and collegiate community of postgraduate students at the University of Reading, the RHS (via an annual student symposium), and connect with experts at the forefront of their fields.

Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree or equivalent in Agriculture, Plant Biology, Plant Biochemistry, Food Science, Soil Science, or a related subject. Masters degree qualification in these or related subjects would be advantageous but not essential.

To apply click at https://www.risisweb.reading.ac.uk/si/sits.urd/run/siw_ipp_lgn.login?process=siw_ipp_app&code1=P_ADM&code2=0001 create your account and use the link sent by email to start the application process.  During the application process please select the PhD in Crop Science (full-time)

*Important notes*

1) Please quote the reference ‘GS22-051’ in the ‘Scholarships applied for’ box which appears within the Funding Section of your on-line application. 

2) When you are prompted by the online application system to upload a research proposal, please omit this step as the project is already defined. 

Further Enquiries: 

For further details please contact Dr Luke Bell ([Email Address Removed]) or Dr Lael Walsh ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

The Walsh Scholarship funding provides €24,000 per year to students for four years, covering a maintenance allowance and tuition fees (up to €6,000). Non-UK/Irish applicants are welcome to apply but will be required to source additional funding to cover overseas tuition fees greater than €6,000 (tuition fees £21,350 per annum).
Project start date October 2022.


Bell et al. (2018) Taste and Flavor Perceptions of Glucosinolates, Isothiocyanates, and Related Compounds. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 62(18), 1700990; Bell & Wagstaff (2017) Enhancement Of Glucosinolate and Isothiocyanate Profiles in Brassicaceae Crops: Addressing Challenges in Breeding for Cultivation, Storage, and Consumer-Related Traits. Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, 65(43), 9379-9403; Bell et al. (2021) Important Odorants of Four Brassicaceae Species, and Discrepancies between Glucosinolate Profiles and Observed Hydrolysis Products. Foods, 10(5), 1055.
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