PhD Studentships

Call now open: AHDB invites applications for Postgraduate Studentship projects

To further research currently undertaken through the AHDB Postgraduate Studentship Programme, AHDB is making funding available for up to 14 PhD studentships. Starting in 2019 these studentships will deliver new experts and science with practical benefits across agriculture and horticulture.

This invitation is open to all UK universities, colleges and research institutes. Organisations will be expected to demonstrate a record of excellence in the specific area of research as well as providing high-quality and well managed research degree programmes.

The aims of this programme are to:

  • Deliver useable scientific developments that are relevant to industry and AHDB strategy priorities
  • Communicate findings of this research effectively with levy payers
  • Develop the next generation of technical experts for the agriculture and horticulture industries

Applicants will be expected to demonstrate that their proposals meet the priorities of at least one of the AHDB sectors participating in the call. The specific priorities are detailed below and form part of the overarching AHDB Strategy (please refer to AHDB Strategy 2017-2020 Inspiring Success). Applications that address issues in more than one sector are also welcomed.
AHDB is inviting submissions in the areas indicated in the table below.  Where more than one sector is indicated with a tick, proposals can be cross-sector or sector-specific. Please indicate on the application form which sectors are being approached for funding.
AHDB is collaborating with the AgriFood Charities Partnership (AFCP) again in 2018 to co-fund a PhD studentship in a topic relevant to AHDB and AFCP priority areas (indicated with an asterisk in the table).  Applications in these areas may be offered to AFCP and member charities to explore joint funding possibilities.   If applicants do not wish their proposal to be passed on in this way, this should be indicated on the submission.

Topics to be considered for funding
* Also to be considered for AFCP charitable funding

Cereals & Oilseeds



Beef & Lamb




* New approaches to weed management; for example, use of biopathogens, application technology





* Cover crops and IPM – interaction with pests and/or diseases, and carry-over to following crops in the rotation





* Innovation in crop protection and post-pesticide management systems including, for example, use of biopesticides, RNAi, biologicals in outdoor cropping





Understanding the influence of environmental factors on consistency of functional protein quality







An understanding of how the knowledge of potato physiology, for example varietal dormancy, can be exploited to optimise sprout control and minimise wastage in potato stores







Understanding and managing plant physiological disorders







Labour/automation (see text below for further detail)







Novel methods for control bacterial diseases (e.g. phages)







Improving tools for genetic evaluation of beef cattle and sheep (see text below for further detail)







Development of approaches to the use of machine learning and predictive analytics (see text below for further detail)






Reducing the need for antibiotics in pig production







Implications of soil management practices, particularly the input of organic materials and manufactured fertilisers, for soil quality in general and soil metal concentrations in particular







Quantified ammonia reduction through innovation






Precision technologies for mobility scoring to objectively measure lameness on-farm







‘Cow-calf interactions’ as they relate to animal welfare, productivity and economics







Econometric analysis of key trade and policy issues (see text below for further detail)







Social science: Greater understanding of changing farmer/grower behaviour to improve uptake of new tools and practices (see text below for further detail)


a Where work on the practical application of phages in horticulture has benefits for understanding how they can be used in livestock, this would add value to the application and would be considered for co-funding by the beef and lamb sector.


Additional information

Studentship applications for 2018 in horticulture are specifically being sought in the areas of Crop Protection and Labour / Automation, to build expertise and develop new knowledge in these areas. 

Crop Protection

  • Details of specific areas of crop protection interest to Horticulture are detailed in the table above

Labour / Automation

  • Pathways to implementing ‘labour replacement’ technology
  • Ways of attracting labour and/or consultants into the horticulture sector
  • Changing behaviour in labour management
  • Technologies supporting farm to factory and labour replacement
  • Adaptions of production systems for automated harvesting

AHDB Horticulture will also accept applications of particularly innovative nature outside of the remit above if a clear benefit to the industry can be demonstrated.

Applicants for PhD funding via AHDB Horticulture must be able to clearly demonstrate within their application that the studentship addresses industry priorities and supports the long-term profitability and sustainability of the horticultural industry in at least one of the six panels. As the relevant Horticulture Crop Sector Panels are involved in assessing studentship proposals, applicants are strongly advised to refer to their priority pages when preparing an application:


Beef & Lamb
Studentship applications are specifically being sought in the area of improving tools for genetic evaluation of beef cattle and sheep, to build expertise and develop new knowledge in this area.  In particular:

  • There is a need for better understanding of the analysis of repeated measure/time course data in genetic analysis.  For example weight measured multiple times in an animal’s life should have more value than measures at individual time points.  Currently evaluation systems in use in cattle and sheep do not make use of such data.
  • There is an opportunity to make use of data from the RamCompare programme to improve understanding of the GxE impacts of different production systems on the performance on rams.

There is a need to develop approaches to the use of machine learning and predictive analytics to forecast production trends and disease and vice (eg tail biting in pigs) incidence in all livestock to enable better informed management decisions. This is a specific priority for the pig sector.

Social science – all sectors
Across all agriculture and horticulture sectors there is a need for a greater understanding of changing farmer/grower behaviour to improve uptake of new tools and practices.  Funding has been set aside for one AHDB studentship to understand the most effective approaches to influence long-term behavioural change of levy payers and stakeholders, in order to better target information and communication from AHDB. Social science research could be conducted on an existing AHDB programme including: Farmbench, genetic improvement, strategic farm network, crop protection, grass and forage, anti-microbial resistance, antibiotic use, endemic disease. 

Market Intelligence (MI)
AHDB MI will consider applications that support econometric analysis of key trade and policy issues in the agricultural crops sectors, and that are in line with the broader AHDB strategy. Applications that assess the impact of changes in agricultural and/or trade policy and assess the impact on farm structure, size, output, prices and incomes will be welcome, along with broader considerations that will effect industry resilience going forwards.


Information for applicants

Funding levels - AHDB funding is in line with RCUK guidelines, currently up to £72,300 per studentship over the project lifetime (3 or 4 years). Where a different level of funding is requested the proposers should make this clear with appropriate justification.

Start dates - Appointed students will normally be expected to commence their studentship on 01 October 2019, but alternative start dates will be considered if necessary to attract high-calibre students.

Application process - Applications should be sent by email to before midday on Tuesday 02 October 2018. Please indicate clearly in the subject heading to which sector(s) the application is addressed. All proposals received before the deadline will be reviewed.

All organisations will be informed of the results of the selection process by Thursday 31 January 2019.

Proposal form and guidelines:

If you are a student with a project idea please discuss this with your institute / university as we do not accept applications direct from students.

Enquiries and further information - Requests for further information should be sent to indicating to which sector(s) your question is addressed. Responses will be made publically available on a FAQ document.