Master's research project on Repurposing Food Scraps With Biochar for High Production Soils In New Zealand - applications invited

Wednesday, 15 November 2023

Applications Invited for a Master’s Research Project: Repurposing Food Scraps With Biochar for High Production Soils In New Zealand

Food waste is recognised as a significant environmental issue around the world. Options for processing food waste include anaerobic digestion, large scale hot composting, black soldier fly, and in-situ composting.  The Hibiscus Coast Zero Waste initiative, based near Auckland, in New Zealand is investigating the in-situ composting option. Over the last five years, a series of long ditches has been dug on pastureland, and each ditch filled with a mix of composted food scraps (collected from local businesses), biochar and wood chippings.  Bananas have been planted alongside each ditch.
In this project, a post graduate student will evaluate the effects of this farming system on the pre-existing clay-based soil. Soil testing of this area has indicated a rapid change in soil quality across a range of soil parameters. Further changes in soil qualities will be systematically assessed in the project across a range of soil parameters (e.g. total carbon, hot water soluble carbon, microbial biomass carbon, cation exchange capacity (CEC), bulk density, nitrate, potassium and phosphorus availability, microbial diversity), and compared with adjacent soil under pasture management.
In addition, the project will involve undertaking a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of this banana cultivation system, and evaluating its potential benefits relative to consumption of imported bananas in New Zealand. New Zealanders consumed 12.8 kg bananas per person in 2020 , and these bananas are imported mainly from Ecuador and the Philippines . There is therefore significant potential to expand this type of farming system in New Zealand with associated waste reduction and climate change mitigation benefits.
The successful applicant will design and undertake a soil sampling programme for the banana plantation system, and the adjacent pasture. In addition, the student will undertake an LCA study to compare bananas produced in this local system with bananas cultivated overseas and imported into New Zealand. This quantitative data will be used to inform an analysis of expanding this “food scraps+biochar” system for future sustainable bio-circular farming systems in New Zealand.
Applications are invited from those wishing to undertake either (a) a 1 year Master’s research project (120 credits) or (b) a 1.5 year Master’s degree (the latter involving coursework (60 credits) and a 120 credit research project) – starting in early 2024. You will have experience in analytical chemistry and be curious about the potential of innovative new farming systems. You must be able to drive, and willing to travel to north Auckland approximately four times during 2024. We are in the process of obtaining funding for this project, and expect to offer a Master’s scholarship and payment of fees.
Please apply by sending a CV and covering letter to: Professor Sarah McLaren, s.mclaren@massey.ac.nz. If you have any queries, please get in contact with Professor McLaren or Dr Neha Jha, n.jha@massey.ac.nz . The deadline for applications is 15th November 2023.