Team profile

Julia Cooper

"Grounded in soil science and fueled by a passion for organic farming, I'm dedicated to cultivating sustainable futures, one evidence-based method at a time"

Job title:

Head of Research

Academic qualifications:

  • BSc Agr. Major: Soil Science, Minor: International Agriculture, University of Guelph, Canada
  • MSc Biology, Thesis: Fertilization with fresh and composted chicken manure: Effect on soil fertility and mixed hay quality, Dalhousie University, Canada
  • PhD Biology, Thesis: The role of temperature in C and N mineralization from selected arable Nova Scotia soils, Dalhousie University, Canada

Role and responsibilities:

I lead research activities at ORC relating to the diversification of cropping systems as a key component of agroecological production systems. I am particularly interested in how we can design cropping systems that meet multiple objectives of building soil quality, mitigating climate change, enhancing biodiversity, and optimizing water quality while providing sustainable livelihoods for UK farmers.

Research interests:

My area of expertise is soil C and N cycling in agricultural systems with an emphasis on agroecological strategies for improving soil health and nutrient use efficiency. I am interested in using our understanding of the fundamental biological processes that happen in agricultural soils to design cropping systems where C and N cycle to optimize crop production and health and minimize environmental impacts.

Since joining ORC in 2023 I have been involved in a range of projects that relate to this theme. The Living Mulches project seeks to address a real challenge in organic and conventional arable systems: how to develop systems with reduced or no-tillage, without relying on herbicides. In LiveSeeding we are testing wheat and bean varieties with organic farmers that are adapted to non-synthetic sources of nutrients. The new Feed the Soil project explores novel ways of managing organic wastes to supply nutrients to crops and build soil health. And the Rapid Evidence Assessment on regenerative agriculture project is building a picture of the many challenges facing regenerative farmers in the UK so that future research and knowledge exchange activities can be focused on these major barriers. Finally, Joining the Dots is a truly participatory action research project where we are working directly with growers in Cornwall to design a sustainable and agroecological food system.

All of the work I do at ORC is participatory with farmers involved in co-designing the research and solutions to their challenges. This has proven to be effective and incredibly rewarding.

Interests outside of ORC:

I am a keen allotment gardener where I enjoy putting my knowledge about composting and soils to practical use in the vegetable patch. I also always have a few backyard hens that keep us supplied with eggs. I like to be active and I spend a lot of time on the tennis court, although this doesn’t translate to much match success! I am active on Twitter where I follow many innovative farmers and scientists and try to inject a bit of realism into some of the interesting discussions around crop diversity and soil health. Follow me there: @JuliaSoilsister