The BBSRC invest in Rothamsted Research’s science strategy

Every five years, Rothamsted Research develops a revised science strategy, in order to deliver the knowledge and innovation required to address grand challenges faced by farmers and society for food production and environmental sustainability. Rothamsted Research is a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategically supported institute and investment by the BBSRC in Rothamsted’s science strategy, follows a robust, independent and international peer review process.

Notes to Editors

The impact of novel grass-legume mixtures on soil C and N cycling and greenhouse gas emissions

Increasing food supply whilst simultaneously reducing environmental impacts and enhancing resilience to future climate are the key challenges facing agriculture. Increased sustainability and improved N efficiency can be gained through replacing mineral fertiliser with N2-fixing crops. This in turn will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from fertiliser manufacture and N2O emissions associated with fertiliser application. Emissions from the use of these plant species need to be measured to assess net gain. This PhD will focus on quantifying how multispecies pastures/diverse forages reconfigure the structure and function of soil microbial communities, and therein enhance resistance and resilience to climatic perturbation.

An equal opportunities employer

Organic nutrients: defining risk and managing transfers at catchment scale

The specific water quality risk associated with organic nutrient management practices is unclear due to difficulties with disaggregating organic sources from soil nutrient sources, and the need to capture data during storm runoff events. Emerging tracer technologies are expensive, require a high level of technical expertise and are only suited to ad hoc storm sampling. An appreciation of hydrological connectivity from sensitive parts of catchments is also required for catchment policy development to prioritise those places at highest risk during storm runoff periods. This is now possible for small fields dominated by micro-topography using higher resolution DEM datasets. To develop the science and aid in policy reviews of organic nutrient management, this project will combine tracer technologies with high-resolution stream nutrient data and spatial data to develop a near-continuous proxy for assessing organic nutrient transfer risk to water in time and space. The method will then be applied to a range of catchments to inform reviews of current agri-environmental policies.

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SoilSquash: Development of a fibre optic soil compaction sensor

This project will develop a novel method for detecting compaction based on fibre optic technology. This will use detectable variations in the refractive index of fibre optic sensors to identify the changes in soil density as a result of soil compaction.

We need to feed a growing global population through sustainable intensification of our current land resources. However the continued productivity of agricultural soils is threatened by various pressures, one of which is soil compaction from agricultural machinery. Compaction causes changes in the soil structure and pore space, with negative effects on crop growth and yield. Currently there are few reliable, practicable methods for measuring changes in soil compaction. This project will seek to provide a cheap, practical alternative to laborious and costly laboratory-based assessments. The student will join the engineering photonics group at Cranfield and the soil physics groups at Cranfield and Rothamsted Research.

An equal opportunities employer

Providing satellite-based soil and crop productivity indicator maps for on-farm management

The student will be engaged in optimising soil resource management by coupling spatial data with dynamic indicators derived from high frequency satellite data provided by Sentinel-1 and -2 of the ESA Copernicus Programme. The student will be a member of a highly dynamic and international research group interpreting remotely-sensed data using advanced GIS and modelling techniques.

An equal opportunities employer

Linking soil characteristics to the wheat ionome in multi-site field trials using rapid dry spectral analyses

Improved nutrient use efficiency is an essential component of sustainable crop production. This requires information linking elemental concentrations in crops (the crop ‘ionome’) to soil characteristics and management. Establishing the link between these using conventional wet analytical techniques is cumbersome and beyond the means of farmers in many parts of the world. However, recently-developed dry spectral techniques offer a more practical approach.  Rothamsted Research is currently establishing a dry spectral lab in collaboration with the World Agroforestry Centre. The lab facilities include MIR and NIR reflectance spectroscopy, X-ray flourcescence and laser particle analysis. The student will use these, together with conventional wet analytical techniques, to analyse crop and soil materials from multi-site field trials so as to develop a predictive soil-crop ionomics framework.

An equal opportunities employer

A novel Soil Organic Carbon Measurement and Indexing System

This breakthrough will enable the development of certification and reward schemes for good soil organic management practices. The project will draw on extensive soil archives and accompanying infrared spectral and reference property databases available through Rothamsted Research and Cranfield University in the UK and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Kenya.  The student will work with scientists in the UK and Africa, conduct lab and field work with dry spectral methods at Rothamsted, and engage with potential users at farm, government and industry levels.

An equal opportunities employer

A loss function approach to optimal sensor configuration for soil sensing

Farming practices must deal with the inherent variability in the natural environment. Fields often follow natural delineations in the landscape, and ploughing, planting and harvest operations seek to reduce variability or to actively manage it. If fertiliser and pesticide use is sufficiently intense it effectively sweeps away the effects of natural variability. But this has negative consequences for the environment, apart from being inefficient.

Advances in sensor technology and agricultural equipment are allowing farmers to become far more precise in their use of chemicals. They also allow more variation in crop type or crop density in a field without compromising yields, resulting in a more environmental, ecological agriculture. The studentship will seek to develop spatial analytical and modelling tools for optimal deployment of such technologies.

An equal opportunities employer

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