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Reference CTP-SAI-068

Routes towards Net Zero through maximizing soil building processes into lower horizons

Reference CTP-SAI-068

Routes towards Net Zero through maximizing soil building processes into lower horizons

Dr Lydia Smith (NIAB)
Dr Dan Evans (Cranfield University)


Diversification of traditional broad-acre arable and livestock/forage production systems can support government targets such as Net-Zero whilst increasing farm resilience, reducing chemical/fertiliser inputs, and creating new value-chains in textiles, construction & carbon offsetting. In many parts of the UK, intensive arable rotations based on relatively high tillage and inorganic fertiliser have contributed to a loss of soil health, structure, and function. Addressing this challenge is imperative, and requires agronomic, environmental, and soil physio-chemical expertise. To ensure that the carbon footprint associated with high-quality UK arable production can be reduced. Insufficient attention is placed on the underlying subsoils, though vital for the health, sustainability, and resilience of agriculture. For instance, subsoils are key water-holding zones for crops throughout drought. We will consider the imprtance of deep-rooting crops in building soil forming processes in both sub-soil and top soil; and attendent soil microbial communities involved.


The student will determine the storage and stabilization of subsoil organic carbon from deep-rooted crops, and the associated mechanisms, we will use an established network of field sites. The student will assess the potential of Hemp, Flax and mixed forage leys to access deep soils and whether this introduces new microbial communities at depth within the soil profile. Methods used will include Thermogravimetric Analysers (TGA) to measure the stocks of organic carbon and microbial biomass and PFLA analyses on soil samples from field sites.


The student will be registered with the University of CRANFIELD, but will be mainly based at NIAB, Cambridge


Students will have access to training in key bioscience areas (bioinformatics, statistics and mathematics) to enhance employability and research capability.

The CTP – SAI ( is a groundbreaking partnership between leading businesses, charities and research providers offering outstanding training for the agri-food sector.

All CTP-SAI students will receive the Leadership and Management training provided by MDS ( and will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring with regards 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.


Contact Dr Lydia Smith and Dr Dan Evans (, ) for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD.

This studentship will begin in October 2024. The successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These will be for 2024/2025, an annual maintenance stipend of £19,237, fee support of £4,786, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.

Due to funder-mandated caps for the CTP as a whole, this project is only available to ‘Home’ applicants

To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

  • Have settled status, or

  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or

  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an international student would not be eligible for this round of recruitment.

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 17th June 2024. Interviews will be held during June 2024.

Please contact for further application details.

NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
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