School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Crop & Soil Sciences

Crop and Soil Sciences


The crop and soil sciences research group has academic excellence and a key focus on five main themes:

  • Organic and low-input systems
  • agro-ecology
  • crop protection
  • agri-diagnostics and precision agriculture

Collectively we investigate how these approaches can be used to understand and manage abiotic and biotic stresses in crop production systems. Our goal is to deliver innovative agri-systems that are capable of meeting the demand for quality foodstuffs from an increasing global population. 

Our research spans a range of scales: pot – plot – farm – landscape.

You can find out about our projects and opportunities for potential PhDs.

NU Farms

For plot to farm scale research, we use the University's NU-Farms.

Nafferton Farm, which is 12 miles west of Newcastle, is home to the internationally recognised Nafferton Ecological Farming Group and a unique farm-scale comparison of organic vs conventional crop and dairy production systems.

Cockle Park Farm, 18 miles north of Newcastle, is the centre for agri-technology development for Newcastle University and is part of the Centre for Crop Health and Protection.

Research themes

Research themes

  • Organic and low input systems
  • Agro-ecology
  • Crop protection
  • Agri-diagnostics
  • Precision agriculture


Find out more about our current research projects.


Potential PhD titles

Potential PhD titles

Currently our group would be able to consider potential PhD's in the following areas:

"Accounting for sustainable on-farm decision making"
This research area is working to create and develop tools designed to reveal the environmental impact of on-farm management decisions.  Many tools exist to measure and support farmer managers’ economic performance. There are an increasing number that report environmental flows, such as nutrient accounting and GHG budgeting.  This research area focuses on linking farm financial and environmental accounting data to better inform farmers of the environmental impacts of their farm management decisions

"Impacts of technology change on farm business performance"
Tractors replacing horses, mono-germ replacing multi-germ sugar beet seed are both examples of new technologies that have been widely taken up by farmers in the UK and globally.  This research area examines the relationship between the operational requirements of new farm technologies and their impact on farm business performance.  It will typically use survey data to estimate diffusion models which estimate key parameters which determine the underlying drivers of success and attribute some degree of that success to the use of a specific technology.

"Improving resource use efficiency, environmental impacts and nutritional quality of grazing-based dairy production"
Improving resource use efficiency, environmental impacts and nutritional quality of grazing-based dairy production Ruminant livestock (incl. dairy and beef cattle, goats and sheep) have traditionally produced food from (a) marginal land unsuitable for food crops or (b) rotational grassland established to improve soil fertility or reduce weed pressure in arable rotations. However, intensification has increased the use of (a) indoor production systems, (b) high concentrate/conserved forage diets and (c) breeds selected for high growth rates or milk yields from concentrate and conserved forage supplemented diets. The proposed project has the following objectives: 1. Compare milk yield and quality, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cross-bred dairy cows with different Holstein-Friesian x traditional breed (e.g. Jersey, Ayrshire) cross-breeding systems. 2. Study interactions between feeding including grazing management and contrasting dairy breeds/cross-breeds with respect to and milk yield and quality parameters. 3. Carry out life-cycle-analysis (LCA) based environmental and economic impact assessments for dairy production systems with different breeding and feeding regimes

"Molecular diagnostics for herbicide resistance in weeds"
This project would interest plant physiologists, biochemists and molecular biologists interested in identifying functional biomarkers of herbicide resistance in grass and broadleaf weeds that can be developed into real time field diagnostics to direct control programmes and builds on our group’s recent work on black-grass (see publications).  

"Development of new strategies for chemical weed control"
This project would interest chemists and biochemists and concerns the development of synergists to augment conventional herbicide control in cereal crops.  The project would be jointly run with Chemists and involve the directed discovery and synthesis of agrochemicals that suppress herbicide tolerance in weeds, most notably in populations that have acquired resistance

"Modelling Nitrate contamination in the Fell Sandstone"
Groundwater from the Fell Sandstone aquifer provides the sole water supply for ~25,000 people around Berwick. Nitrate concentrations in observation boreholes are above Drinking Water Standards, although concentrations from the public supply boreholes are only elevated at the moment. Land use on the aquifer is predominantly agricultural, including arable crops under both conventional and organic conditions. The superficial geology is spatially variable, comprising areas of exposed sandstone bedrock, areas with thin glacial till and small areas of peat. The mechanism for N leaching is poorly understood in the catchment. Understanding the links between soil variability, land management practices and nitrate leaching is key to assessing the long term risk to the public water supplies and determining the efficacy of mitigation measures. This project will couple innovative digital soil mapping, field surveying, and N models to predict N losses and to test alternative land management strategies to mitigate N losses into the aquifer.