Orchard floor management in tree crops

Investigating the link between soil physical and soil biological properties in the management of orchard floor in perennial fruit cropping systems.

Degree type


Closing date

18 July 2022



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Apples and pears are grown in all Australian states and production has been relatively stable over the last three years, with approximately 310,000 tonnes of apples and 110,000 tonnes pears produced annually. The industry is looking to develop environmentally sound and sustainable production practices that will continue to meet consumer demands and inspire public confidence, ensuring that the apple and pear industry has social license to continue production in the future. The objective of this project is to provide targeted research that develops the knowledge to optimise soil health, thus driving productivity through enhanced nutrient availability and uptake and resilience to climate variability. The desired outcome is an apple and pear orchard production system that maximises quality and yield with high nutrient use efficiency under increasingly variable climates.

We will provide knowledge and tools to develop orchards of the future that use resources efficiently and sustainably and reduce the environmental impact of production. In collaboration with commercial orchards in the Huon Valley (Tasmania) and Tatura (Victoria), we will conduct more comprehensive analysis of the influence of sustainable orchard management practices on changes to soil biology, the role and function of mycorrhizal fungi and the physiology of tree water relations and crop production. Specifically, we will:
-investigate the link between soil physical and biological properties under the influence of cover crop orchard floor management treatments  
-determine their relative contribution and effectiveness of changes in soil properties to improvements in plant nutrient uptake and tree productivity
-investigate the influence of soil biology on tree water use, resilience to climate variability and consequent effects on fruit quality outcomes

This project is part industry funded and will make a major contribution to the new Hort Innovation funded PIPS III project:  Improved Australian apple and pear orchards soil health and plant nutrition.
This project supports Pillar 3 (Industry sustainability) of the Apple & Pear Industry Strategy 2018-2023, as well as Pillar 4 (Capability and capacity) and the Hort Innovation investment priorities “Support industry efficiency and sustainability” and “Improve productivity of the supply chain through innovative technologies”.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Nigel Swarts


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,854 per annum (2022 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • The scholarship is open to Australian and New Zealand (domestic) candidates and to International candidates.
  • Research must be undertaken on a full-time basis.
  • Applicants must already have been awarded a first-class Honours degree or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector.
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong research and analytical skills.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Soil physics
  • Environmental relationships with plants
  • Experience with laboratory techniques

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Driving license

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Nigel Swarts to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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