School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography

Our courses

Food Security in the Changing Environment (MSc by Distance Learning)

The MSc in Food Security in the Changing Environment will provide students with a detailed understanding of the principles and processes of sustainable food production, including its social and environmental contexts. It will equip students who already have work experience in the food supply chain to implement the latest research into sustainable systems thinking, and will facilitate cutting edge careers for those who want to enter the food production and supply chain.

The Food Security in the Changing Environment MSc has been created with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the Advanced Training Partnership (ATP). Please visit the ATP website. Please also visit the Aberystwyth MSc website offering the MSc in Sustainable and Efficient Food Production. Modules from the Bangor MSc and the Aberystwyth MSc can be interchangeable between the two programmes. Bursaries are available for those employed in the UK agri-food industry.

Students studying the MSc in Food Security in the Changing Environment will:

  • Examine the environmental, economic and social responsibility of farming in the context of food security and the changing environments.
  • Study how selected management practices can improve the resource-efficiency and overall sustainability of food production.
  • Gain a global perspective to question whether and how growing demand for food from limited land resources can be met through sustainable intensification.

Students will have the opportunity to study from 3 to 6 modules per year, depending on their status as part time or full time students. For the Masters degree, students will complete a total of 6 modules of study, detailed below, and a dissertation project.

Students may begin their study at the beginning of any module, either at the end of September, the end of January or the middle of May.

In the event of compulsory modules changing from year to year, existing students may choose from either the compulsory modules extant at the time of registration, or the new ones, and are advised to discuss their options with the Course Director.

Professionals in the agri-food industry, conservation and environment, farmers, and agricultural policy decision makers may be interested in the modules of this degree, as will full-time students wishing to pursue a post graduate degree that culminates in employability in these sectors.

Teaching and learning is supported by study guides with journal articles, online lectures, podcasts, and discussion forums. The wide range of backgrounds and expertise of staff and students make a hugely enriching learning experience.

Modules

Agriculture and Society (compulsory, 20 credits): The environment, economics and the social/cultural aspects of our lives are inextricably tied together. Truly sustainable, efficient food production requires that these three pillars of sustainable development are given equal treatment. This module will study the environmental, economic and social implications of pasture based agriculture from an ethical perspective. Topics will include global climate change and resource pressures, the distribution of environmental costs associated with current farming systems, the distribution of market power within food supply chains, costs and benefits arising from a transition to sustainable farming (including economic, social and environmental factors), political drivers, and global food security and food sourcing.

Agriculture is more than an economic activity; it is a way of life. Changes mandated to agricultural practices need to be carefully considered for economic and social viability. Study of this module would provide farmers and agri-food businesses, non-governmental organisations and government agencies an in-depth insight into farming enterprises’ current perspectives on ethical issues surrounding food production at the local, regional and global scale.

Upon completion of the module, students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate opinions and perspectives from a variety of sources.
  • Debate and discuss economic, social and environmental issues facing agriculture from a global perspective.
  • Demonstrate the ability to create an effective presentation as a member of an online team illustrating a diversity of opinions.

Global Food Security (compulsory, 20 credits): This module takes a global perspective on food systems and their role in providing food security. It contains:

  • Introduction to food security and food systems: Definitions and evolution of the concept of food security; conventional and alternative food systems and their interconnections
  • Cropping systems :  Intensive, subsistence and alternative systems
  • Drivers affecting the food system: Population and increased demand; Governance; Energy and other costs; Competition for resources 
  • Impact of future climate change; Impacts of rising prices
  • Sustainably balancing future supply and demand; improving productivity using existing knowledge and emerging technologies; sustainable intensification
  • Reducing waste; improving governance; reducing / managing demand
  • Linking food systems with environmental policy; improving biodiversity and ecosystem services while increasing food production

Climate Change (compulsory, 20 credits): This module provides a detailed assessment of current knowledge on climate change – science, impacts, adaptation and mitigation, and how it is perceived by the public.

  • Introduction to climate change - the science
  • Historical and predicted future changes: IPCC 5
  • Impacts of food systems on climate change – emissions from cultivation, fertilizer production and use, deforestation and animal husbandry
  • Assessing the impacts of climate change on agriculture and land use
  • Adaptation of global food systems to climate change
  • Evaluating measures to reduce greenhouse emissions from agricultural production
  • Evaluating opportunities for carbon sequestration in agricultural systems?
  • Climate change in public perception
  • Current and future drivers of climate change mitigation in agriculture

Research Methods (compulsory, 20 credits): The module is organized in terms of (a) conducting a scientific literature review, (b) principles of research design, (c) ethical considerations in research, (d) using GIS, and (e) preparing a research proposal. Students will be introduced to methods and techniques available for conducting comprehensive scientific literature reviews. With respect to research design, topics covered include defining and formulating research problems and hypotheses, the rationale for different forms of study design and choice of appropriate methods, forms of sampling, sampling error and the potential for bias, and the concepts of generalizability, validity, reliability and replicability. Scenario case studies will be used to develop students’ abilities as responsible, ethical researchers. With respect to preparing a research proposal, several draft research proposals case studies will be used to illustrate further the range and type of studies that MSc students undertake, as well as the format and structure that such documents take. Skype or telephone tutorials will be held with individual students to help them develop their research proposal, including framing of research questions / objectives, identification of suitable methods for data collection and analysis, and practical and logistical considerations. The module will culminate with each student developing a research proposal which they can use as the basis for their dissertation. 

Upland Farming Systems (optional, 20 credits): This module will examine the environmental, economic and social viability of alternative upland farming systems. The course will explore:

  • Upland environments and land use;
  • Socio-economics of upland farming;
  • Production and marketing of food from upland farming;
  • Impact on ecosystem service provision (e.g. regulating flooding; water quality; greenhouse gas emissions; biodiversity);
  • Drivers of future change in the management of upland environments;
  • Methods in ecological and economic appraisal appropriate for upland farming.

Carbon Footprinting and Life Cycle Assessment (optional, 20 credits): This module will consider in detail the principles and practices of life cycle assessment and carbon footprinting, in relation to eco-efficiency assessment and improvement of pasture based farming systems. Case studies and structured carbon footprinting exercises will demonstrate how LCA and CF can be used to determine and assess Greenhouse gas mitigation options. Students will be informed of the latest developments in agricultural LCA methodologies, focussing on biodiversity, soil quality and water consumption. The role of LCA in food supply chain improvement will be examined in the context of retailer management and global food security. 

Soil Management (optional, 20 credits): This module will provide a practical and theoretical overview of soil management. Sustainable soil management is reviewed in relation to increasing food production efficiency, whilst limiting the environmental impacts and decline in soil quality and services. The dynamic function of the soil system will be explored, including ecosystem services, nutrient budgets, carbon cycling, greenhouse gases and mitigation. 

Students will be able to:

  • Practically assess soil type and quality;
  • Utilise data to design sustainable soil management regimes;
  • Understand the ecosystem services associated with soils, including water quality, climate and hazard regulation;
  • Assess nutrient budgets, such as the recycling of different wastes to land and soil pollutants (heavy metals).

Resource Efficient Farming (optional, 20 credits): This module will demonstrate application of a quantitative systems approach to select priority farm management practices that optimise the resource efficiency, and minimise the environmental impact, of food production on pasture-based farms. The module will be divided into units that address key resource efficiency challenges for pasture based systems. Each unit will refer to the most relevant quantitative indicators to inform resource-efficient farm management, from the process level (e.g. fuel consumption, soil nutrient status and fertiliser application rates, concentrate feed rates) through the farm level (nutrient-use efficiency, feed-conversion efficiency, carbon footprint) to the product-level (carbon footprints, water footprints, embodied energy and other life cycle assessment indicators expressed per kg product exported from the farm gate).

Students will be able to:

  • Describe quantitatively the environmental impacts arising from farm systems in the context of food supply chains; 
  • Recognise priority hotspots for environmental improvement within pasture-based farm systems;
  • Determine the most appropriate tools and methodologies to assess farm and food supply chain; sustainability;
  • Recommend relevant indicators to determine the eco-efficiency of hotspot processes on farms;
  • Critically evaluate alternative management options and certification schemes for particular farm contexts in order to drive environmental improvement.

Agro-ecosystem services (optional, 20 credits): This module will introduce students to the ecosystem services framework to assess pasture-based food production, with an emphasis on the critical importance of considering landscape context and scale factors when assessing the sustainability of farming practices. To demonstrate this in a practical and topical manner, the module will take a global perspective to question whether and how growing demand for food from limited land resources can be met through “sustainable intensification”. The module will explore how the ecosystem services approach can add value to more narrow resource use-efficiency tools such as life cycle assessment and water foot-printing (ATP module DDL-4012) across key sustainability challenges for farming such as management of water, soils, habitats and emissions to air.

Students will be able to:

  • Describe and classify ecosystem services;  
  • Recognise the dominant effects of agricultural production systems on ecosystem services; 
  • Explain the importance GIS for ecosystem service assessment, with reference to spatial scale; 
  • Recommend relevant indicators to assess ecosystem service effects of particular agricultural management actions; 
  • Critically evaluate agricultural management options with respect to their global effect on ecosystem services.

The following optional modules from Aberystwyth may also be taken

Animal Production (optional, 20 credits): This module will provide student with the ability to improve their knowledge of modern animal production systems and the skill to integrate the most recent research into their work.  It  explores the way in which research is used to develop more efficient animal production systems.  This module will draw upon the on-going research within IBERS and elsewhere. To outline the fundamental genetics and physiological that underpins animal production in the context of recent research, the module will focus on ruminants, although descriptions of the relevant processes in monogastric animals will also be given where appropriate.

It will achieve this by considering the following areas:

  • Reproductive technology
  • Genetic improvement
  • Dairy cattle production systems 
  • Meat production systems
  • Meat and milk quality
  • Management and prevention of disease

Feed and Forage (optional, 20 credits): This module will consider in detail the principles and practices underpinning the development of new feeds and forages. Advances in both grass and legume breeding with be considered and the use of novel forages in the nutrition of farmed livestock considered. The module will also encompass advances in production of grains fed to ruminant livestock including, maize and oats. The role of novel feeds and forages in helping meet the challenges of climate change will be considered both from the prospective of adapting farming systems to adapt to the environmental challenges of climate change but also in terms of helping mitigate the production of greenhouse gases from livestock production systems and reducing the environmental footprint of livestock production.

Through an integrated programme of workshops and distance learning, students will evaluate the role of novel feeds and forages and investigate the factors underpinning the development of such crops. Current research being carried out in IBERS will have a significant impact on the precise module content. 

The aim of this module is: to consider in detail the principles and practices underpinning the development of new feeds and forages with particular reference to livestock nutrition and climate change. Both the underlying genetics and agronomy involved in development of new crops will be evaluated as will the use of these novel feeds and forages in ruminant diets. Students will benefit significantly from the research being conducted in this area in house at IBERS and so have the opportunity to be involved in the advances at the forefront of forage, grain legume and cereal science.   

It will achieve this by considering the following areas:

  • Grass genetics and grass breeding
  • Clover breeding and genetics
  • Novel forage crops
  • Grain legumes
  • Forage maize.
  • Oat and barley breeding
  • Adapting to climate change
  • Reducing greenhouse gases from animal livestock
  • Reducing environmental footprint of livestock production

Sustainable Grassland Systems (optional, 20 credits): This module will provide students with the ability to improve their knowledge of modern pasture management and the skills required to integrate the most recent research into their work. This module will consider in detail the principles and practices underpinning the husbandry of grassland, forages and non-cereal arable crops with particular reference to livestock nutrition. The range and distribution of grassland and forage crops and factors influencing growth and development and their manipulation will be examined. The specific needs of individual animal species, forage-based problems and disorders and the role of plant breeding and management will be investigated. The roles of nutrient management and environmental protection will be a theme throughout as will strategies for grazing and forage preservation. Through an integrated programme comprising a workshop and distance learning, students will evaluate the management requirements of a range of forage crops and the factors that underpin a range of forage cropping programmes. Current research being carried out in IBERS will have a significant impact on the precise module content. 

The aims of the module are: to consider in detail the principles and practices underpinning the husbandry of grassland and forages with particular reference to livestock nutrition and wellbeing. The precise management requirements of a range of forage crops and the factors that underpin a range of forage cropping programmes will also be evaluated. Students will benefit significantly from the research being conducted in this area at IBERS and so have the opportunity to be involved in the advances at the forefront of grassland and forage science.   

It will achieve this by considering the following areas:

  • Range and distribution of grasslands and the characteristics of herbage species
  • Developments in new forage varieties
  • Managerial and environmental factors, including grassland nutritional requirements, that effect pasture composition and quality.
  • Range and use of forage crops and evaluation of forage cropping programmes.
  • Forage crop breeding
  • Grazing and forage conservation systems.
  • Novel grassland and non-arable crops research and its potential to affect future livestock feeding practice

Ruminant Nutrition (optional, 20 credits): This module will provide student with the ability to improve their knowledge of modern livestock nutrition systems and the skill to integrate the most recent research into their work. This module will discuss recent developments in the nutrition of livestock animals. This module will draw upon the on-going research in ruminant nutrition in IBERS and elsewhere

The aim of this module is: to outline the fundamental physiological and microbiological principles that underpins animal nutrition in the context of recent research. The module will focus on ruminants, although descriptions of the relevant processes in monogastric animals will also be given where appropriate.

It will achieve this by considering the following areas:

  • Design of animal nutrition experiments
  • Animal ration formulation and evaluation
  • Nutrient digestion and metabolism
  • Modulating alimentary microbial populations and their ecology, and plant-microbe interactions.
  • Metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and lipids in order to modify the characteristics of meat and milk.

Silage Science (optional, 20 credits): This module will provide student with the ability to improve their knowledge of modern forage and grain ensilage systems and the skill to integrate the most recent research into their work. This module explores the way in which research is used to develop more efficient ensilage systems for forage and grains fed to farmed livestock. This module will draw upon the on-going research within IBERS and elsewhere. To outline the fundamental genetic and physiological that underpins silage production in the context of recent research. The module will focus on forage based systems, although descriptions of the relevant processes for grain based systems will also be given where appropriate.

It will achieve this by considering the following areas:

  • Silage production and ensilage systems
  • Silage evaluation
  • Silage fermentation and  microbiology
  • Inoculant development 
  • Ensilage and preservation of a  non-arable crops and its potential to affect future livestock feeding practice
  • Pathogen transfer and food safety in silage fed animals

Upon completion of the course students will be able to:

  • Examine the environmental, economic and social responsibility of farming in the context of food security and the changing environments.
  • Demonstrate how selected management practices can improve the resource-efficiency and overall sustainability of food production for food security in a global context.
  •  Able to express a global perspective reflecting on whether and how growing demand for food from limited land resources can be met through sustainable intensification.
  • Gain academic research skills, critical evaluation competence and proposal writing abilities for completion of a dissertation.

Sustainable Homegrown Feed: Arable crops are often a key part of pasture-based agriculture, yet their selection and management is likely to be driven by very different requirements compared to intensive arable situations. This module focusses on developing appropriate management approaches to maintain and build soil fertility whilst maximising livestock productivity to deliver a system that is both resilient and sustainable. We will explore rotational farming practices in the context of mixed farming systems and examine the different crop options, their suitability for different situations and regions, their use in the feed ration, and crop management approaches. The environmental and economic implications of different management practices will also be evaluated in context with current UK and European policy. Topics include:

  • Overview of mixed farming systems and soil health
  • Crop rotation: regulatory and environmental context
  • Building soil fertility
  • Cultivation and harvest options
  • Plant health and weed control 
  • Economic evaluation
  • Maize, protein, cereal and brassica crops, and short term grass leys

Genetics and Genomics in Agriculture: This module is designed to give those with little understanding of genetics a practical knowledge of the principles and technologies that underpin crop and livestock breeding programmes. The programme will focus on the challenges facing land based production in the 21st century and the role of emerging technologies to meet these challenges sustainably. It will consist of a series of lectures initially detailing the broad objectives and methodologies involved in breeding programmes. Later units will allow students to follow a crop or animal breeding pathway. The module will give students an understanding of the methodologies applied in molecular and population genetics and in related disciplines (e.g. proteomics, metabolomics, etc.), allowing them to conceptualise and apply them to further agricultural production. It will cover:

  • Domestication of agricultural species 
  • Basic concepts of genetics
  • Modern breeding methodologies 
  • Trait evaluation and reporting 
  • Marker assisted selection and next generation sequencing 
  • Genetic technology 
  • Agricultural genetics and society 
  • Future prospects

Low Input Ruminant Production: This new module will look at the concepts behind ruminant production in a low input or organic system. It will examine alternative methods of production, from unique forages and sward mixtures to interesting animal breeds that could provide a more tailored product for niche markets. The course will also look at natural methods of disease control that can be adopted by low input or organic systems. Learning units are likely to include:

  • Overview of production systems
  • Low input markets
  • Nutrition in low input systems
  • Home grown feeds
  • Nutrient flow
  • Rotation management
  • Breeding
  • Disease control
  • The future for low input farming

Ruminant Health and Welfare: This course will draw on the expertise of Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities and the Royal Veterinary College, London. The first half of this course will look at the general legislation and management of ruminant health and welfare across all three sectors.  The second half offers the students the option to be assessed on one of the three sectors: dairy, beef or sheep. Each of these pathways will cover the latest research on the diseases of most concern to each of the sectors, and look at how welfare is measured and could be improved in each sector. The structure of the module is provisionally set to be:

  • Controlling diseases in the UK 
  • Basic principles of nutrition
  • Animal welfare in the UK 
  • Methods of control

Plus an option to study either dairy, beef or sheep aspects of:

  • Measuring and improving welfare 
  • Economically significant diseases (diagnosis and methods of control)
  • Future challenges

Career Prospects

This course will enable professionals to redirect or enhance their capabilities. Graduates can find careers in advisory and policy/advocacy roles, executive management, agriculture and agribusiness consultancy, agricultural finance, land and catchment management agencies, natural resources management, agricultural education and training, and as rural counsellors.

Fees

Please note: the fees are subject to increase

UK students: cost per module £750; dissertation fee £1,800

International/EU students: cost per module £1,363; dissertation fee £3,150

Contact

Nicky Wallis, Teaching Administrator or Dr. Gerrit Meerdink, Distance Learning Coordinator

Telephone

+44 (0)1248 388660 (Nicky Wallis) or +44 (0)1248 383649 (Dr Gerrit Meerdink)

Website

Please visit the website here. Also visit: www.atp-pasture.org.uk

Qualification

MSc/Pg Diploma/Pg Certificate (by Distance Learning). Modules can also be taken on a stand-alone basis for Post Graduate credits.

Duration

1 year (PG Cert); 2 years (PG Dip); up to 5 years (MSc)    

For the Postgraduate Certificate in Food Security in the Changing Environment (PgCert in Food Security in the Changing Environment):

  • Achieve a total of 60 credits from any combination of modules except the dissertation.
  • The programme shall be assessed in accordance with the University’s regulations and codes of practice.

For the Postgraduate Diploma in Food Security in the Changing Environment (PgDip Food Security in the Changing Environment):

  • Achieve a total of 120 credits from any combination of modules except the dissertation.
  • The programme shall be assessed in accordance with the University’s regulations and codes of practice.

For the Masters degree in Food Security in the Changing Environment (MSc Food Security in the Changing Environment):

  • Achieve a total of 180 credits
  • The programme shall be assessed in accordance with the University’s regulations and codes of practice.

Entry

The entry requirements reflect the expected student profile, i.e. working and experienced in their field. Many applicants will have technical knowledge through work experience. 

Entry requirements are as follows:

  • a 2(i) honours degree in a relevant subject, e.g. Biological Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Agriculture;
  • a third class honours degree or an ordinary degree in a relevant subject, plus a minimum of two years relevant work experience;
  • a minimum of two years relevant experience in agri-based food industries or related work in a position of demonstrable responsibility.

Language requirements are IELTS 6.5 (with no element below 6.0) for overseas students.

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