Identifying strategies for carbon-efficient commercial farming in the UK - Priestley Doctoral Scholarships


Prof Les Firbank

Dr Marcelo Valadares Galdos


Project description

It is well known that much of current agriculture is a source of carbon emissions. In response, the National Farming Union (NFU) has announced a goal of reaching net carbon emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040. Innovative arable farmers are moving in this direction by seeking to increase soil carbon levels through the use of leys, livestock and cover crops in their rotations. The potential benefits of these approaches have not been clearly quantified and communicated. This is the challenge of this studentship.
The student will use data from existing highly instrumented, long term farming system experiments. She / he will develop models to evaluate the degree of carbon efficiency and resilience of different rotations and farming systems, in the context of other aspects of sustainability (not least yield) which in turn will be fed back to stakeholders. The student will be expected to build a carbon budget for each farming system,that includes carbon sequestration into the soil, greenhouse gas fluxes, energy use associated with the different systems, and estimated energy costs of the associated supply chain. The student will also develop and apply process-based models of crop production for each system under different scenarios of changing weather and climate, using high-resolution short- and long-term climate projections. This work will require engagement with relevant research infrastructures and groups from across Europe.
The student will be required to share findings with stakeholders, some of whom will be involved on the studentship management team. This sharing may entail additional analysis of the costs and benefits of different farming systems using, e.g. carbon prices and / or additional payments to enable commercial carbon-efficient arable farming in the UK.
This research will enable a unique comparison of different farming systems using the same metrics, and so will enable for the first time a full analysis of the performance and resilience of different farming systems with respect to changing weather patterns, and the need to control net carbon emissions. The fact that the experimental platform is co-designed and managed with key stakeholders in the agricultural industry gives a guaranteed path to rapid impact. The work brings together the sustainable agriculture work in the School of Biology, which is largely UK and Europe based, with the climate smart agriculture modelling based in the School of Earth and Environment. 
The successful candidate will be able to develop models of carbon dynamics from field data, and to be able to interpret their major results to the stakeholder community. 

Key benefits

The Priestley International Centre for Climate brings together researchers cross-campus to deliver excellent research to underpin robust and timely climate solutions. Leeds has outstanding reputation for climate related research with more than 170 experts and 110 PhD researchers and an active research grant portfolio of over £70m. The Priestley Centre supports a range of events, activities and opportunities to foster exciting interdisciplinary collaborations including our Climate Exchange seminar series and public engagement events [], Piers Sellers Prizes [], Priestley Society [], and Priestley Climate Scholars []. Find out more at

Entry requirements

Candidates should have, or be expecting, a 2.1 hons at Undergraduate level or above, in a relevant subject. If English is not your first language, you will need a recognised English Language qualification to be admitted onto any of the University's degree programmes: language requirements

How to apply

Please apply online

Please choose PhD in Biological Sciences as your proposed programme.  

Please include supervisor name and project title.  A research proposal is not required.  Please upload a CV and transcripts.

How to apply (email)

How to apply (phone)

+44 (0)113 343 8186