New PhD projects to tackle rural issues

Published Thursday, 14th February 2019 in Research news

One of the PhDs will investigate the causes of lamb loss on Highland farms and crofts
One of the PhDs will investigate the causes of lamb loss on Highland farms and crofts

Farmers are set to benefit from 18 new PhD research projects being funded by Scotland’s Rural College to address a wide range of issues within the rural sector.

From tackling the need to reduce carbon emissions in farming and utilise crops for biomass, to exploring the use of computing and data science to improve animal health, the PhD projects span a variety of disciplines including Agricultural and Animal Sciences, Statistics and Environmental Management.

SRUC is funding the 3.5 year studentships in partnership with universities across Scotland as well as in Ireland, USA and the Netherlands. 

One project, funded by SRUC and Michigan State University, will look at how precision livestock farming (PLF) technologies – which aim to maximise the productivity of animals – address the issues seen as priorities by farmers and offer value for money. Using technologies developed to improve pig health and welfare as a case study, it will also assess how these technologies are perceived by the veterinary profession and consumers.

Another project will explore how agriculture and the food system is being challenged by wider environmental and social objections such as climate change mitigation and the provision of healthy food. 

The successful PhD candidate will be based in Edinburgh, but will also spend six months at the Irish lighthouse farm in the Lands at Dowth (a UNESCO Heritage Site), which is owned and managed by Devenish, as well as undertaking regular shorter visits to Wageningen University in The Netherlands.

The Scottish Whisky Research Institute is co-funding research with SRUC into Ramularia leaf spot (RLS) – a major disease of barley in many temperate countries which leads to reduced grain yield and quality, with a knock-on impact on the distilling and brewing industries. Following a recent dramatic reduction in the efficacy of fungicides, as well as the threat of the loss of fungicides through regulatory control, the project will use genetic analysis to identify potential resistance to RLS. 

A jointly-registered PhD post at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies and SRUC, will investigate the causes of lamb loss on Highland farms and crofts – known as ‘blackloss’. Working in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage and with extensive travel in the west Highlands of Scotland, the project will investigate possible causes of blackloss, including predation by wild birds and mammals, infectious diseases and poor ewe nutrition resulting in malnutrition of lambs.

Professor Eileen Wall, Head of Research at SRUC, said: “These new PhD studentships, which we are offering in partnership with universities and other organisations across Scotland, Ireland, the USA and the Netherlands, are an important part of SRUC’s journey towards becoming a university that acts as a core driver of the rural economy. 

“International collaboration is a vital part of our work and our world-leading research is having a global impact.”

Starting in September 2019, successful candidates will be registered at a partner university and will receive an annual student stipend of just over £15,000 a year.

The closing date for applications is 3 March. For more information, or to apply for a studentship, please visit SRUC’s job page.

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