Judith van de Mortel appointed as professor Plant-Soil Health

News 24 July 2018
Judith van de Mortel - Professor - Healthy plants on healthy and sustainable soil - HAS University of Applied Sciences

Dick Pouwels (President board - HAS University of Applied Sciences), Judith van de Mortel (Professor - Healthy plants on healthy and sustainable soil - HAS University of Applied Sciences) and Johan van den Hout (deputy - Province of Noord-Brabant) in the greenhouse of HAS University of Applied Sciences in 's-Hertogenbosch.

Judith van de Mortel has started at HAS University of Applied Sciences as professor ‘Plant-Soil Health’. This new chair focusses on the interaction between plant and soil, with the main focus on the interaction between soil biology and the plant, and how this interaction can be used to make the soil healthier and more sustainable. It is the first chair located at the HAS University of Applied Sciences Venlo campus and will run until 2022. It is based on a close collaboration between HAS University of Applied Sciences and the Limburgse Land- en Tuinbouwbond (LLTB) (the Limburg agriculture and horticulture association). Both the LLTB and the Province of North Brabant are financially involved in the position.

Healthy soil

Healthy soil is the foundation for ecological stability and, therefore, for sustainable crop production. Healthy and fertile soil also contributes in the battle against the greenhouse effect and in addressing the challenge to provide enough healthy food for a growing global population without disturbing the environment and the balance in ecosystems. “Soil quality is an important theme in many current social discussions,” says Dick Pouwels, Chair of the Board of Governors at HAS University of Applied Sciences. “By working on this, we are positioning ourselves and our students in a future-oriented perspective. A perspective that we can shape.”

Lines of research

The new chair will carry out applied research within the following lines of research:

  • Using the plant to improve the soil: research into how soil biology can be applied as a new fertilising strategy and applying new cultivations or mixed cultivations to improve soil quality.
  • Using the soil to improve the plant: research into how soil biology can be applied to increase plant resilience in crops to reduce the use of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides.
  • Adjusting the crop according to soil problems: Research into how soil biology can be applied to increase the crop’s resilience to particular soil problems (acidification, salination, water saturation, compaction, water shortage, exhaustion of nutrients, loss of soil diversity, sealing, pollution and over fertilisation (eutrophication).

Financial support

The LLTB will finance part of the estimated costs for the duration of the chair. The LLTB works with and for its members to achieve a healthy and sustainable soil. Applied research plays an important role in this. The Province of North Brabant will also contribute €300,000. In light of the challenges the province is facing with respect to nature, water and the environment, it is beneficial for the province to encourage educational establishments, such as HAS University of Applied Sciences to include sustainable soil management in their programmes. Thanks to their financial support, the province is also contributing to large-scale knowledge exchange regarding sustainable soil management.

Valued support

Dick Pouwels: “By financing an academic chair in this way, the professional field is demonstrating their willingness to collaborate with HAS University of Applied Sciences to work on new developments regarding important issues for the sector. This support shows the faith they have in us, which we very much value.”

Attention for sustainable soil management

A centre of expertise will be set up from the new chair, in which knowledge will be collected and made available to agricultural entrepreneurs, company consultants, employees and education. The chair will ensure that students acquire knowledge regarding proper soil management by carrying out applied research at demonstration companies.


Judith van de Mortel is looking forward to her new role as a professor. “During the coming years, I want to use this position to create greater awareness and understanding in the agrifood chain. This will hopefully lead to behavioural changes in the process towards sustainable soil management. In this, the chair also needs help from farmers, horticulturists and from everyone associated with the agricultural chain, to acquire more knowledge of how to realise healthy and sustainable soil. Furthermore, as a professor, I want to put HAS University of Applied Sciences on the map as knowledge and expertise centre: Soil for Southern Netherlands.”

About Judith van de Mortel

Judith van de Mortel studied medical microbiology at Gilde Opleidingen North Limburg and technical microbiology at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Venlo. She has spent many years building up expertise in the field of interaction between plants and soil at the University of Minnesota and Wageningen University. At the University of Minnesota, she worked on ‘Rhizobium-induced nitrogen fixation in Medicago truncatula’.


At Wageningen University she obtained her PhD in ‘Heavy metal tolerance and accumulation in Thlaspi caerulescens, a heavy metal hyperaccumulating plant species’. During her subsequent postdoc period, under the Phytopathology Chair of Wageningen University, she worked on ‘Plant growth stimulation and disease resistance induced by rhizobacteria’. Since 2013, Judith has been a senior lecturer at the Venlo campus of HAS University of Applied Sciences for the study programme Applied Biology. In this position, she is also project leader for the SIA-RAAK project, SCOUT.