Researchers at UCD


Nick Holden

Associate Professor

School Of Biosystems Engineering
Agriculture and Food Science
Dublin 4

Tel: +353 1 7167460


My research interests are related to the sustainability of agriculture and food chain systems, with a focus on:

- Agricultural Systems
- Soil Science
- Life Cycle Assessment
- Bioresource modelling
- Agricultural decision support

Prof. Nicholas Holden studied geographical and soil sciences to PhD level and then worked as an NERC research fellow (UK) and a Newman Scholar (Irl) looking at water and nutrient transport process in soils and the controlling influence of soil structure.

As a member of the biosystems engineering discipline since 1998, he teaches  life cycle assessment, research and teaching methods and project modules. He has also supervised research and published extensively on bioresource management, agricultural systems and soil science. 


Honours and Awards

Year: 2010.
Title: Leader, WMO CAgM Expert Team on Agrometeorological DSS
Year: 2006.
Title: WMO Commission for Agricultural Meteorology, Expert Team Member
Year: 1998.
Title: WMO Commission for Agricultural Meteorology, Rapporteur
Year: 1995.
Title: Newman Scholarship
Year: 1993.
Title: Silver Jubilee Medal, British Society of Soil Science
Year: 1989.
Title: Ireland / Great Britain exchange scholarship


Association: International Soil Tillage Research Organization (since 2009), Function/Role: member
Association: Soil Science Society of Ireland (since 1989), Function/Role: Secretary and Treasurer
Association: British Society of Soil Science (since 1991), Function/Role: Silver Jubilee Medal
Association: Soil Science Society of America (since 1995), Function/Role: *
Association: American Society of Agricultural Engineers (since 2003), Function/Role: Committee ED-206 Agricultural Technology and Management Curriculum Review and Program Recognition Committee


Committee : COST ES1106
Committee : Biosystems Engineering Laboratory Committee
Committee : Biosystems Engineering Teaching and Learning Committee
Committee : Joint Working Group on Applied Agricultural Meteorology
Committee : UN International Hydrology Programme and UN International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage
Committee : UN World Meteorological Organization Commission for Agricultural Meteorology


Year 1988 Institution: University of London
Qualification: BSc Subject:
Year 1989 Institution: University of Reading
Qualification: MSc Subject:
Year 1992 Institution: University College Dublin
Qualification: PhD Subject:
Year 1998 Institution: University College Dublin
Qualification: MEngSc Subject: --none--

Outreach Activities

Invited expert member of the Sustainability Committee of FEFAC (EU Feed Manufacturers' Association)
Reviewer: Plant and Soil Science in Estonia (for Estonian Government)(2011)
Reviewer: Swiss-Polish Research Programme (2010)
Reviewer: Georgina National Science Foundation (2009)
Reviewer: Austrian Science Fund (2007)
Reviewer: IPCC 4th Assessment Report (2005)
Reviewer: International Grassland Congress (2005)
Reviewer and organizer: Agricultural Research Forum (since 2004)
Soil Science in Schools (supported initially by an RDS Grant)
2010 - 4 schools (primary and secondary)
2011 -  1 school (secondary)
2012 - 2 schools (secondary) 

Journals Edited

Grass And Forage Science: Editor.
Soil Sci Soc Am J: Reviewer.
European Journal Of Soil Science: Reviewer.
Mires And Peatlands: Reviewer.
Land Degradation And Development: Reviewer.
Journal Of Environmental Quality: Reviewer.
Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing : Reviewer.
Irish Journal Of Agricultural And Food Research: Reviewer.
T Asabe: Reviewer.
International Journal Of Forest Engineering: Reviewer.
International Peat Journal: Reviewer.
Canadian Geotechnical Journal: Reviewer.
Water Resources Research: Reviewer.
Journal Of Hydrology: Reviewer.
Soil Use And Management: Reviewer.
Atmospheric Environment: Reviewer.
Agricultural And Forest Meteorology: Reviewer.
Suo, Mires And Peat: Reviewer.
Catena: Reviewer.
Geoderma: Reviewer.
Environmental Management: Reviewer.



Holden, N. M. Hochstrazzer, T. Schulte, R. P. O. Walsh, S.; (2007) Making Science Work on the Farm. A Workshop on Decision Support Systems for Irish Agriculture. Dublin, Ireland: Agmet. Available Online [Details]
N. M. HOLDEN (Editor) ; (2001) Agro-Meteorological Modelling Principles, Data and Applications . : Agmet. [Details]

Book Chapters

A.A. Piwowarczyk, N.M. Holden (2013) 'A Laboratory Lysimeter for Pesticide Transport Studies' In: Daiki Kobayashi and Eito Watanabe (eds). Handbook on Herbicides: Biological Activity, Classification and Health & Environmental Implications. United States of America: Nova Science Publishers. [Details]
A.A. Piwowarczyk, N.M. Holden (2013) 'Adsorption-Desorption Processes and Mobility of (4-Chloro-2-Methylophenoxy) Acetic Acid (MCPA) in Irish Grassland Soils' In: Daiki Kobayashi and Eito Watanabe (eds). Handbook on Herbicides: Biological Activity, Classification and Health & Environmental Implications. United States of America: Nova Science Publishers. [Details]
X. Peng, S. Macdonald, T. M. Murphy and N. M. HOLDEN (2011) 'The Fate and Transport of Cryptosporidium parvum Oocysts in the Soil' In: X. Peng, S. Macdonald, T. M. Murphy and N. M. HOLDEN (eds). Principles, Application and Assessment in Soil Science. Croatia: In Tech. [Details]
Carrol, J. P. N. M. HOLDEN (2012) 'The Relationship Between Patch Spraying Cost and Target Weed Distribution' In: Carrol, J. P. N. M. HOLDEN (eds). Weed Control. Croatia: In Tech. [Details]

Edited Books

B Tiwari, T. Norton and N. M. Holden (Ed.). (2013) Sustainable Food Processing. UK: Joh Wiley. [Details]

Peer Reviewed Journals

J O'Connell, John Connolly, Eric F. Vermote and Nicholas M. Holden (2013) 'Radiometric normalisation of a multispectral database of satellite imagery of peatlands for change detection monitoring'. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 32 :2377-2393. [Details]
Piwowarczyk A A. and N M. Holden (2013) 'Phenoxyalkanoic acid herbicide sorption and the effect of co-application in a Haplic Cambisol with contrasting management'. Chemosphere, 90 :535-541. [Details]
Kerebel, A., R. Cassidy, P. Jordan, N. M. Holden (2013) 'Soil Moisture Deficit as a predictor of the trend in soil water status of grass fields'. Soil Use and Management, 29 :419-431. [Details]
Yan, M.-J., Humphreys, J., Holden, N. M. (2013) 'LCA of milk production from commercial dairy farms: the influence of management tactics'. Journal of Dairy Science, 96 :4112-4124. [Details]
Yan, M.-J., Humphreys, J., Holden, N. M (2013) 'Evaluation of Input-Output and process based LCA of Irish milk production'. Journal of Agricultural Science, 151 :701-713. [Details]
Askari M. S., Junfang Cui and N. M. Holden (2013) 'The visual evaluation of soil structure under arable management'. Journal of Soil and Tillage Research, 134 :1-10. [Details]
Kerebel A., Jordan P, Cassidy, R., Holden, N.M (2013) 'Farmer Perception Of Suitable Conditions For Slurry Application Compared With Decision Support System Recommendations'. Agricultural Systems, 120 :49-60. [Details]
Yan, M-J, Humphreys, J. and Holden, N. M (2013) 'The carbon footprint of pasture based milk production: can white clover make a difference?'. Journal of Dairy Science, 96 :857-865. [Details]
Labite H, N. M. Holden, K G. Richards, G Kramers, A Premrov, C. E. Coxon, E Cummin (2013) 'Comparison of pesticide leaching potential to groundwater under EU FOCUS and site specific conditions'. Science of the Total Environment, 463-464 :432-441. [Details]
Jianjun Cao, E, Yeh, N.M. Holden, Yangyang Yang (2013) 'The effects of enclosures and land-use contracts on grassland degradation on the Qinghai Tibetan plateau'. Journal of Arid Environments, 97 :3-8. [Details]
Dejun Li, Catherine J. Watson, Ming Jia Yan, Stan Lalor, Rashid Rafique, Bernard Hyde, Gary Lanigan, Karl G. Richards, Nicholas M. Holden,
James Humphreys (2013) 'A review of nitrous oxide mitigation by farm nitrogen management in temperate grassland-based agriculture'. Journal of Environmental Management, 128 :893-903. [Details]
Labite H, Holden N, Richards K, Kramers G, Premrov A, Coxon and Cummins E* (2013) 'Comparison of pesticide leaching potential to groundwater under EU FOCUS and site specific conditions'. Science of the Total Environment, 463-464 (1):432-441. [Details]


Research Interests

Sustainability of agricultural and food chain systems:

  • LCA of livestock production systems
    • Carbon Footprint
    • Water Footprint
  • LCA of organic nutrient recovery technologies
  • Nutrient management decision support
  • Visual evaluation of soil structure 
  • Impact of agricultural management on Soil Quality
  • Soil spectroscopy 
  • Pathogen contamination of surface waters

Research Projects

Sponsor : Dept. Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM)
Title : Increased environmental efficiency of ruminant production systems through the incorporation of a Life Cycle Assessment into a quality assurance scheme
Start Date / End Date : 01-NOV-12 / 31-OCT-16
Sponsor : Dept. Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM)
Title : Improving the productivity of heavy wet grassland for delivery of Food Harvest 2020
Start Date / End Date : 01-NOV-12 / 31-OCT-16
Sponsor : Teagasc
Title : ¿SOGGYLAND: Impact of artificial sub-surface drainage on pasture production, the length of the grazing season and the profitability of milk production on a heavy wet soil
Start Date / End Date : 01-MAY-13 / 31-OCT-16
Sponsor : Irish Research Council (IRC)
Title : Consequential life cycle analysis of Anaerobic Digestion, Pyrolysis and Composting as treatment options for recycling food and agri-waste back into agricultural production
Start Date / End Date : 17-JAN-13 / 16-JAN-17
Sponsor : Teagasc
Title : Life cycle modelling of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint of dairy and beef production systems
Start Date / End Date : 10-APR-13 / 09-APR-17
Sponsor : Dept. Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM)
Title : SILF: Smart Integrated Livestock Farming
Start Date / End Date : 01-JUN-13 / 31-MAY-16
Sponsor : EC Framework
Title : (MicroAqua) Universal microarrays for the evaluation of fresh-water quality based on detection of pathogens and their toxins
Start Date / End Date : 01-MAR-11 / 30-NOV-14
Sponsor : Teagasc
Title : Factors Impacting on Grass Growth, the Length of the Grazing Season and Milk Production on Heavy Wet Soils
Start Date / End Date : 01-JUL-11 / 30-JUN-15
Sponsor : EC Framework
Title : CSecure - Assessment of soil carbon security using emerging techniques in hyperspectral imaging, X-ray florescence and pedometrics
Start Date / End Date : 01-JAN-13 / 31-DEC-15

Recent Postgraduates

Recent PhD graduates (2013):

Agnieszka Piwowarczyk (PhD) - pesticide dynamics
Anthony Kerebel (PhD) - nutrient management DSS and stakeholder interaction
Gillian Lewis (MSc) - TWI and SMD modelling for nutreint management
Sara Vero (MSc) - soil trafficability prediction using SMD


Current Postgraduate Students

Chen Wenhao, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Yvonne Anders, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Eleanor Murphy, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Secondary Supervisor
Thomas Oldfield, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Paul Rice, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Mohammad Sadegh Askari, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Ross Donnelly-Swift, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Patrick Tuohy, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Junfang Cui, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Rui Liu, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor
Kerry Tuffy, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)   -   Thesis Supervisor


Teaching Philosophy

I foster life-long learning by encouraging my students to think and learn for themselves and by building new knowledge on what they already know, in a positive, constructive environment.

Modules Coordinated

201300   BSEN30360     Biosystems Engineering: Life Cycle Assessment
201300   BSEN40400     Biosystems Engineering: LCA Applications
201300   BSEN40210     Biosystems Engineering: Green Technologies Project
201300   BSEN40090     Biosystems Engineering: Biosystems Engineering Thesis

Enhancement of Teaching

I have engaged in an ongoing programme of personal training to improve my understanding of what is required for high quality university teaching. I have taken part in many training activities including UCD organised workshops and courses, external training courses (John Deere, PE-International, GreenDeltaTC) and two courses (Cert Health and Safety, CCDP) that have contributed greatly to my understanding of how to teach as well as the subjects they were focused on. I provide students with multiple views of a subject (lecture, tutorial, practical class, teaching assistants, notes, papers, books, websites, videos, worksheets, examples) to facilitate different types of learning. I also integrate assessment with learning in order to make experience of the subject a part of my assessment. My assessment strategies focus on practical application of theory with a specific demand for critical analysis (appropriate to the module level) in order to encourage students to think, synthesise and react to the learning stimuli offered. I have taken student feedback and improved how I work (e.g. offering step-by-step work through of examples and providing foundation material for masters students from diverse backgrounds) to make engagement with my teaching a more positive experience. The benefit can be seen in feedback. Overall, outcomes from my modules have been very good and encourage me to engage in a constant process of improvement. Feedback from discussion with employers has revealed areas that need to be improved (e.g. helping students understand the need for accuracy and error checking their work). I have enhanced my teaching by engaging in external accreditation and recognition of programmes and coordinating an international Biosystems Engineering curriculum development grants. These activities have shed light on a range of practical teaching options used by my collaborators.

Review and Enhancement of Curriculum

My main teaching focus is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). I have structured the modules around the theory and practice of LCA and have focused assessment on practical work rather than examinations. This means students have to "do and understand", rather than just "remember" in order to engage with the subject and to do well. As my learning outcomes focus on project work I provide structured learning opportunities within the modules rather than focusing on lecturing. I provide plenty of theoretical material, but bring it to life by practical example. In all my modules (except the thesis) I have continuous assessment, structured to lead the students through the material and to provide feedback every 2-3 weeks. This means I can identify who is doing well and challenge them more, and help those who need it more. I have also integrated presentation and writing skills into the assessment of all my modules (as I believe this is something that needs to be practiced over-and-over) to link subject specific and transferable skills in my teaching. As I use non-standard assessment, I prepare an assignment timeline for each programme to which I contribute in order to ensure student workload distribution is acceptable. At the programme level, I have developed a new MSc programme in Public Health Engineering Technology and have subject oversight, as Head of Subject, Agricultural Systems Technology, of the MSc Environmental Technology. I was responsible for restructuring the latter to differentiate it from environmental science, management and policy programmes, and to optimise teaching commitments for staff. As school Head of Teaching and Learning I am working to make each of our programmes unique and excellent. This is an ongoing process.

Developing as a Teacher

I maintain a reflective diary which I update after each lecture / practical / tutorial.This ensures I am always improving and making best use of the resources available to me. I combine this with student feedback (both formal and informal) to improve my teaching every year. I improve my knowledge by keeping a close link with research in my area (I am a very active research scientist) and attending workshops / conferences annually. I am always looking for new ideas and better ways to teach even when doing research as I believe I need both to be academically-whole. My membership of ASABE ED-206 and coordination of the TABE.NET project ensure I keep up to date (and in fact drive forward) Biosystems Engineering curriculum development. I have also attended around 20 teaching and learning workshops reguarly over my career to ensure I am up to date with latest developments and ideas. In my role as Head of Subject I to an active interest and supported the development of the module BSEN10010 Biosystems Engineering Design Challenge, which resulted in a number of conference publications. I was also responsible for organising workshops on online teaching for the College of Life Science.

Innovation & Leadership

I have a career long record of leadership in T&L (recently I was Chair of the Life Sciences Graduate Taught Programme Board and I am currently School Head of Teaching and Learning and Subject Head for Agricultural Systems Technology) focused on continuous quality enhancement of modules and programmes in Biosystems Engineering.