Novel fertility management in vegan organic cropping systems

Novel fertility management in vegan organic cropping systems

Eligibility: UK/ EU/ International graduates with the required entry requirements

PhD funding award: Bursary plus tuition fees (UK/EU/International)

Duration: Full-Time – between three and three and a half years fixed term

Application deadline: 20 January 2020

Interview dates: Will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: May 2020

To find out more about the project please contact Dr Francis Rayns.

The project

Vegan and flexitarian diets are on the rise globally and research is needed to ensure that their production systems are as sustainable as possible. The maintenance of soil fertility is a particular issue in the production of ‘protected’ crops in glasshouses and polytunnels.

These are often cropped intensively in order to make the best use of the financial investment in the infrastructure. For field crops organic farmers make use of green manures to build fertility in field rotations but these are more difficult to justify in protected cropping so there is often a reliance on animal manures and animal by-products. This can be ethically questionable and can make the farm less resilient as it increases the dependence on external inputs.

This project will:

  1. Identify and characterise the available vegan organic fertilisers;
  2. Evaluate these fertilisers using appropriate sustainability assessment tools and robustly designed field trials to measure crop performance and food quality, environmental impact and soil health;
  3. Explore barriers to the adoption of novel vegan organic fertilisers and develop policy advice for stakeholders.

This project will complement work already underway at CAWR within the H2020 Organic-PLUS project concerning contentious inputs in organic agriculture. Close links will be maintained with commercial growers to ensure that the work has a meaningful impact.


Full studentship which includes tuition fees and living expenses for a doctoral candidate over 3.5 years.

Stipend rates set by UKRI with an annual projected average increase of 1.25% per year.

Basic research costs (e.g. equipment) are covered by Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience. The successful candidate will receive an additional allowance of £500 per annum for professional expenses.


Coventry University has been the UK’s top modern university for seven consecutive years (Guardian University Guide 2013-2019) and holds a number of other prestigious accolades. Established in 2014 through substantial university investment, the Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience (CAWR) is rapidly building a global reputation for transdisciplinary research into processes of resilience in social-ecological systems. Among its key lines of research is work focusing on modelling of water and food systems, aided by high performance computing facilities.

The successful candidate will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills.

All researchers at Coventry University (from PhD to Professor) are part of the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities.

Entry requirements

  • A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average
  • the potential to engage in innovative research and to complete the PhD within a 3.5 years
  • a minimum of English language proficiency (IELTS overall minimum score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component)

The successful candidate will have qualifications or practical experience in agriculture or horticulture – in particular knowledge of organic production techniques is desirable. The work will be varied and involve plant growth trials, laboratory analysis, desk based sustainability assessments and social science studies. Expertise in several of these areas would be an advantage but this project is an opportunity to learn new skills and training will be provided when necessary.

How to apply

To find out more about the project please contact Francis Rayns.

All applications require full supporting documentation, a covering letter, plus a 2000-word supporting statement showing how the applicant’s expertise and interests are relevant to the project.

Apply to Coventry University