Agriculture and food security research at RAU boosted by £2 million donation

25 Oct 2018

PhD research into topics such as growing soybean as a profitable, low-carbon crop will continue to thrive at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) following a donation of £2 million.

The RAU has received this research investment thanks to the John Oldacre Foundation, which supports the agricultural sciences and is a long-term funder of doctoral study at the University.

The RAU’s current John Oldacre scholars are already supported by an investment of nearly £190,000 and are working on crop science projects that will be of long-term benefit to the UK’s food security.

The new endowment of £2 million will ensure future research of this kind at the RAU in perpetuity – an estimated two new PhDs per year. It will also enhance links with the agricultural research community, including a collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB).

Pictured above is Pedzisai Nemadziba, who is one of the current PhDs developing strategies for the UK to successfully grow large-scale soybean crops, which have lower reliance on fertilisers and are becoming a growing part of our diet. The majority of the UK’s soya is currently imported and genetically modified.

Caitlin Willis’ project is “investigating insecticide resistance in UK populations of oil seed rape pests", in this case in conjunction with the non-profit Rothamsted Research Institute. These projects will be supervised by Dr Nicola Cannon and Dr Xianmin Chang.

Dr Nicola Cannon, Principal Lecturer in Agronomy, who is supervising Pedzisai’s PhD said: “It is an honour that the Foundation has chosen to build on its already generous support for research at the RAU. It means we can increase our focus on studies that offer benefits to farmers, the environment and the public by improving the carbon footprint of agriculture and reducing input costs.

For example, if systems can be found to successfully grow soybeans at scale in the UK it would not only improve the diversity of cropping on farms but could help lower the amount of imported soya in the UK, much of which is GM. 

“Soybean also has the benefit of being a leguminous crop (the same family as, for example, peas and beans) which means it can form an association with nitrogen fixing bacteria, reducing the need for additional fertiliser. 

“Being spring sown, residues from the previous soybean crop can also be left over winter to provide a feed source for wild birds or the land can be sown with a cover crop to help with removal of carbon from the atmosphere, known as sequestration.

“Soya is now being incorporated into meat products including burgers and sausages to help reduce red meat consumption for environmental and dietary benefits.  Growing soya in the UK would help improve consumer understanding of this crop whilst reducing food miles and hopefully in the near future be a profitable and viable crop for farmers.”

Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University said: “We are proud to receive this transformational investment in our doctoral research, building on three decades of support for the RAU by the John Oldacre Foundation.

“Investment in PhD students is critical for ensuring that we address future challenges facing agriculture and for the RAU to make an impact in areas like global food security, crop resilience and climate change.”

Henry Shouler Chair of Trustees at the John Oldacre Foundation said: “After promoting research at the RAU for more than thirty years, we are delighted a programme has been agreed to secure the future for its PhD students and their projects in the name of John Oldacre, who was a longstanding supporter of this work.”

PhD student Pedzisai Nemadziba standing in his RAU lab surrounded by soybean samples

Pedzisai Nemadziba working in his RAU lab.