John Oldacre Foundation PhD Studentship

Do differences in soil quality impact human nutrition?

  • Qualification Type: PhD
  • Location: Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, Gloucestershire UK
  • Funding Amount: Tuition fees (£4,200), student stipend (£15,000) per annum, plus project costs
  • Funding For: UK Students, EU Students
  • Duration: 3 years plus write-up period
  • Hours: Full Time
  • Awarding University: University of Gloucestershire
  • Start Date: April 2020
  • Closing Date: 31 March 2020 

Some studies have found that fruit and vegetable mineral content has declined over the last 50 years (both in the UK and globally), leading to less nutritious food. Over the same time period it has also been shown that intensive agricultural practices have led to a decline in soil “health” – with changes in fertility, soil structure and soil fauna populations. At the field scale soil is easily damaged but difficult to improve, therefore previous work attempting to change soil ‘quality’ which would lead to changes in food quality failed to show any changes in soil quality over a five year period. This PhD study aims to investigate from the top down – investigating the soil quality (health) in relation to improved crop mineral quality.

The overall research question will be are mineral differences in crop quality a reflection on soil health?

The hypotheses to be tested are:

  1. Changing soil quality (health) will have an impact on the mineral content of crops (pot-scale experiments)
  2. Crop quality (mineral content) will show differences in soil quality (health) at the field scale
  3. Optimisation of soil health has the potential to lead to improvements in human nutrition

These hypotheses will be tested through the utilisation of farmer networks, large-scale assessment of the differences in soil habitat between the mineral nutrient content of the same crop. Taking this top down approach will thereby reduce the risk that over a three year period changes wouldn’t be found within this study.

The overall hypothesis is that a “healthier” soil, will produce “healthier” crops. Understanding the linkage between crop quality and soil quality is a clear research gap which this work aims to answer and will enable consumer driven promotion of improvements in soil quality, leading to environmental benefits as soil health is improved.

Applications are invited for entry onto a three year PhD studentship programme awarded by The University of Gloucestershire in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural University. The successful applicant will play a key role in the design and development of the project. You will be joining a multidisciplinary sustainable crop production research team.

The standard minimum entry requirement is a Master's degree or an equivalent academic qualification from a comparable international institution in an appropriate subject area (e.g. soil science, ecology, or agronomy). Mature candidates with significant relevant work experience and lower academic qualifications may also be considered for entry, following personal interview. A willingness to collaborate with stakeholders from both academic and industry backgrounds is essential. The candidate will be able to work safely outside in all weather conditions, and have a full driving licence. Please note that this PhD project may entail extensive travel to remote, rural farm locations with extended periods of fieldwork. Candidates with previous laboratory experience are preferred although relevant training will be provided as part of the research process. If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. The University will accept the International English Language Test (IELTS) with a minimum overall score of 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in Writing and no less than 5.5 in all elements.

To apply please send a CV and covering letter to Felicity Crotty, Director of Studies.