PhD projects

Governing agricultural innovation sustainably
This project, conducted by Auvikki de Boon and financed by the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading, is aiming to create deeper understanding of how to govern agricultural innovation in a way that ensures that both the innovation process and its outcomes are sustainable, socially just, and legitimate. This is important because if we do not govern agricultural innovation in a sustainable way, we run the risk of exacerbating inequality, creating social, economic, and environmental harm that may be arduous to counteract once inflicted, and creating an agricultural sector that is not able to adapt to change. The project strives to connect our knowledge of 1) individual human behaviour and individual innovation processes, 2) interactions between innovation processes and the contextual factors that impact upon them, 3) the broader system within which innovation processes take place, and 4) the way in which these are all shaped through governance, with governance meaning the practices and procedures of how decisions related to public affairs are made and implemented and how responsibilities are exercised. To underpin these theoretical developments empirically, a case study is conducted on agricultural policy innovation in England.

Evaluating the impact of England’ Facilitation Fund Farming groups
It is widely acknowledged that environmental conservation and restoration needs to be delivered on a landscape scale. Over 70% of the land cover of the UK is agricultural; the majority of which is in private hands. Average farm size in England is 80ha and just under half of all farm holdings are under 20ha. Achieving landscape-scale change will inevitably need to take place across a number of private land holdings.
Broadly the research aims to

  • evaluate how farmers have been involved landscape-scale conservation projects to date. This will illustrate the background against which Facilitation Funds were created and defined.
  • assess how facilitation funds operate specifically whether they engage farmers and have an impact on farmer attitudes and knowledge.

This research is being undertaken by Cath Jackson part-time and is partially funded by Natural England.

Biostimulants improve soil and plant conditions to enhance the health-related properties of fresh produce
To improve crop quality and quantity, biostimulants (made from plants and plant extracts; animal by-products; marine algae and seaweed extract) can be added to agricultural soils. They contain active substances that improve soil and crop health, thus producing higher yields and better quality foods. However, their influence and mechanisms are poorly understood. This PhD project, undertaken by Dannielle Roche, aims to generate new insights into how soil management affects the performance of biostimulants in improving crop qualities such as minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, whilst also investigating the consumer facing impacts and value from fresh produce grown on better managed soils. The project is funded by BBSRC, FoodBioSystems DTP, in partnership with Sainsbury’s.

Ethics of Precision Livestock Farming technologies: a focus on animal welfare, farm management, the human-animal relationship and consumer perception
This project, conducted by Juliette Schillings, aims to address ethical questions related to the use of Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) technologies in the context of the ‘fourth agricultural revolution’. New technologies are emerging in an attempt to address some of today’s most important challenges, including feeding a growing population while reducing environmental impacts, improving animal welfare and productivity. While their potential is promising, ethical concerns have also been raised such as their potential impact on the human-animal relationship, the objectification of animals, the notion of care, and farmers’ identity as animal keepers. The project has three main objectives: i. identifying PLF technologies with associated welfare benefits and risks and evaluating the extent to which they can help address animal welfare based on the Five Domains model, ii.  evaluating the impacts of PLF on animal welfare, the human-animal relationship (HAR) and farm management, and iii., since animal welfare policies are largely consumer-driven, understanding people’s perception of the use of PLF technologies will also be investigated.