Project description: Australian wheat breeders have delivered high-yielding, high-quality varieties that underpin grower profitability and contribute to global food security. However, a new challenge lies ahead to improve sustainability of wheat production.

While genetic gain must further increase to meet the demand of 10 billion people by 2050, climate change and rapidly evolving diseases are set to impact global wheat production and supply. In parallel, there is growing pressure to reduce the environmental footprint of agricultural systems, including management of water at the ecosystem level and reducing emissions and inputs on farms, such as diesel, fertilizer, herbicide and fungicide.

A major challenge is to reduce nitrogen fertilizer input but maintain high yield and quality, particularly grain protein content which is critical to meet premium export markets and to maintain grower profitability. This PhD project will be conducted in collaboration with the Australian wheat breeding industry to explore the genetic potential to improve yield and grain quality under lower nitrogen input.

The study will integrate UAV-assisted phenotyping technology and genomics to establish a haplotype catalogue for sustainability metrics. The student will develop a strong quantitative genetics skill set through the exploration and analysis of large breeding datasets, including yield, grain protein and climatic data, collected across the Australian wheat-belt.

Simulation studies will be performed to evaluate a range of breeding strategies aiming to develop a new generation of varieties with improved profitability and sustainability for Australian wheat farmers.

Research environment

The University of Queensland is one of the highest ranked internationally in the field of Agriculture. With campuses at St Lucia (Brisbane) and Gatton as well as at Hermitage Research Station (Warwick), there are over 250 HDR students researching solutions for agricultural problems.

The successful applicants will be part of the International Research Training Group (IRTG) with The University of Queensland, Justus Liebig University (Giessen), Julius Kuhn Institute (Quedlinburg) and Geisenhem University in Germany.The IRTG for Accelerating Crop Genetic Gain will commence in July 2023 and is led by Prof Rod Snowdon (JLU Giessen) and Prof Ian Godwin (UQ).

Leading scientists from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) and the School of Agriculture and Food Sustainability will be involved in supervising students in the IRTG. All IRTG students will be supervised at UQ with associate advisors in Germany, with the opportunity to participate in research and research training workshops in both Australia and Germany. We are currently recruiting four PhD students to join a a cohort that will be around 24 PhD students by the end of 2024.

Scholarship: This project is supported by the Research project scholarship. This scholarship includes:

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single overseas student health cover (OSHC) for international students.

Supervisor: Principal supervisor: Professor Lee Hickey, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation. You must contact the principal supervisor for this project to discuss your interest.

You should only complete the online application after you have reached agreement on supervision. Always make sure you are approaching your potential supervisor in a professional way.

Preferred educational background: Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis. We take into account your:

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history

A working knowledge of quantitative genetics, plant breeding, grain quality, and nitrogen-use efficiency would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

How to apply

To be considered for this scholarship, please email the following documents to Professor Lee Hickey (

  • Cover letter
  • CV
  • Academic transcript/s
  • Evidence for meeting UQ’s English language proficiency requirements eg TOEFL, IELTS

Please note the following: Submitting the above documents does not constitute a full application for admission into The University of Queensland’s PhD program. If you are selected as the preferred applicant, you will then be invited to submit a full application for admission.

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