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Reference CTP-SAI-052

Sustainable soils for sustainable food production - can minimising soil disturbance help deliver net-zero crop production?

Reference CTP-SAI-052

Sustainable soils for sustainable food production - can minimising soil disturbance help deliver net-zero crop production?

Dr Paula Misiewicz (HAU), Prof Jim Monaghan (HAU), Dr Edward Dickin (HAU), Dr Shaunagh Slack (PepsiCo), Dr S McWilliam (PepsiCo)


The aim of this PhD is to recommend the best cultivation strategies for long-term soil health and minimised greenhouse gas losses on soils used for growing potatoes. Our soils play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change that has already been determined by historic emissions. Soil disturbance can lead to increased soil microbial respiration and associated release of CO2and NOx greenhouse gases. Disturbance can also damage soil structure and broader soil health. Growing root crops such as potatoes leads to intensive soil disturbance at the planting and harvesting stages, accompanied by soil compaction by heavy machinery.  We don’t know what the long-term effect of this soil disturbance is on the following crops in the rotation, such as cereals, and whether the soils recover more quickly where the soil disturbance is reduced.

Novel engineering and agronomic solutions are being developed by the potato industry as a high priority to enable potato production to fit within otherwise min-till crop rotations.  These new approaches may also have an impact on soil health for following crops.  The student will apply their knowledge of soil science to assess the potential of novel soil management systems to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and soil damage during the production of potato crops and in the subsequent following crops in the rotation.


The aim of this 4-year PhD is to conduct a detailed study on the effect of novel, sustainable soil management practices versus conventional approaches in potato production on conventional and regenerative farming systems for both the potato and following crops in the rotation. The successful candidate will have a demonstrated interest in the measurement of soil health and greenhouse gas emissions.

There are two hypotheses underpinning this PhD studentship:

1. Reduced soil cultivations for potato production have the potential to improve soil health whilst maintaining good crop yield and quality.

2. Managing soils using regenerative practices such as reduced tillage improves their resilience and ability to recover more rapidly after a potato crop.

The objectives of this work are to:

1. Conduct detailed assessment of the impact of cultivation systems on soil health, resilience and ecosystem functions.

2. Conduct detailed greenhouse gas emission measurements from potato production under different cultivation systems.

3. Monitor the effect of different cultivation systems on soil health, recovery and consecutive crop growth at both conventional and regenerative field sites.

4. Recommend improved soil cultivation practices for both potato and arable production to maintain crop yields and quality, and improve soil health, resilience and ecosystem functions.

The PhD student will study the effect of individual soil cultivation processes across two commercial farms using replicated experiments. The effect of these will be monitored for 24 months following the potato crop to assess soil resilience and recovery after potato production.

This project is connected to the Innovate UK co-funded ‘Potato-LITE’ Project ( in which both Harper Adams University ( and PepsiCo are partners, together with McCain Foods, GRIMME UK, forward-thinking potato farmers, Cranfield University and Crop Health and Protection. The Potato-LITE consortium will provide experimental plots to allow the effects of sustainable cultivations versus the conventional approaches to be evaluated.


This PhD will be based and registered with Harper Adams University.


Students will have access to training opportunities through their University to complement their scientific development. This will be augmented by training in key bioscience areas such as statistics through the CTP-SAI.

This project will give the student experience in plant physiology, soil and crop science, GHG flux measurements, commercial field experiments, collaborating with a commercial sponsor and with a large national research programme. The placement within PepsiCo’s R&D Ag Science team will give the student the opportunity to engage with a large-scale commercial enterprise and understand the application of R&D within an industry setting.

There will be additional skills training to enhance employability and research capability. All CTP-SAI students will receive Graduate Training in Leadership and Management from MDS ( Additionally, students will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring pertinent 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 Paula Misiewicz ( for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD. Paula’s profile page is

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.

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