Funded PhD on dairy foot-printing

18. September 2020 News 0

PhD Opportunity

Farming for Net Zero Carbon: life cycle assessment of resource-efficient milk production  


Dairy production is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia (NH3) emissions to air and nutrient losses to water in Europe, but delivers high-quality protein with smaller environmental footprints compared with other animal-based food production systems. Life cycle assessment (LCA) has previously been applied to calculate the environmental footprint of milk production from various farm typologies employing a range of practises to mitigate GHG and NH3 emissions. However, dairy farms are intricately connected with crop and beef production systems owing to inflows of feed and outflows of culled milking cows and surplus dairy calves. Recent research has highlighted the environmental significance of indirect inter-system effects associated with sustainable intensification strategies for dairy farming. Such effects are critical in the context of Net Zero Carbon targets that will necessitate dramatic reductions in overall agricultural emissions alongside land sparing for carbon offsetting activities such as afforestation. There is an urgent need to assess innovative mitigation strategies for dairy production through consequential LCA that explicitly represents indirect co-benefits and trade-offs across interconnected systems, considering, inter alia, potential changes in land use.     

An exciting new four-year PhD scholarship is available to evaluate promising dairy system innovations in the context of Net Zero Carbon objectives for the wider land use sector. This scholarship is part of an Irish-government funded project that is developing a low-input dairy production platform comprising efficient, high-yielding cows with low replacement rate, primarily fed by extended grazing on clover-rich pastures. The position will be based in the School of Engineering at the University of Limerick (UL). The multidisciplinary supervisory team comprises leading experts in the fields of LCA (Dr David Styles, UL), grass-based dairy production (Dr James Humphreys, Teagasc) and ecological modelling (Dr James Gibbons, Bangor University).

The successful candidate will have access to data from ongoing experimental trials alongside advanced farm- and landscape- level models employed on the SeQUEsTER project to calculate milk footprints and the wider environmental consequences of mitigation strategies employed across agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors. With assistance from the supervisory team and the postdoctoral researcher working on SeQUEsTER, the PhD candidate will be expected to adapt and parameterise these models using data mined from various sources in order to: (i) benchmark environmental footprints of milk production from low-input dairy systems against conventional dairy systems (attributional LCA); (ii) evaluate national and international mitigation achievable via deployment of low-input, high-output systems, accounting for critical inter-sectoral and land use consequences (consequential LCA). Results will be presented at international conferences and published in high quality scientific journals, contributing to the evidence base on effective strategies to achieve Net Zero Carbon.        

Essential Requirements

  • Good primary degree (or MSc) in a related discipline (Agricultural Science, Engineering, Computer modelling, Environmental Science, Earth Sciences, etc.)
  • Excellent numerical skills
  • Knowledge of agricultural systems

Desirable requirements

  • Coding skills
  • Experience applying LCA
  • Knowledge of greenhouse gas and ammonia emission sources
  • Skills in spatial analysis, e.g. GIS


The Fellowship is available to commence as soon as possible, and provides a stipend of €24,000/yr (available until October 2024).

Further Information

Dr David Styles, School of Engineering, University of Limerick & School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University. Email:

Application Procedure

Submit an electronic copy of Curriculum Vitae and a letter of interest to Dr David Styles at Deadline for applications midnight Sunday 11th October.

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