Are you that enthusiastic researcher that likes to work on modelling and control, and apply it to improve processes in agriculture and food production? Then you might be the PhD-candidate we are looking for!

This PhD is part of the Synergia project. Synergia is a crossover program funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Synergia contributes to the UN Sustainability Development Goals for the environment (depletion of scarce resources, global warming, acidification, eutrophication, nutrient losses, and biodiversity loss), labour (availability of skilled workers), and society (consumer/societal acceptance of novel technology and production methods).

Synergia goes beyond current precision agriculture (PA) and precision livestock farming (PLF) and is developing the new concept of ‘Technology-4-Ecology-based farming’ (T4E) where biological/ecological principles in farming lead the development of new farming systems, and the required technological knowledge, principles and tools. Our multi-disciplinary team with biology, ecology, agronomy, technology and social science backgrounds, will explore how current and future farming technologies can enable and support truly ecology-based farming systems.

The aim of this PhD project is to employ the latest sensing and actuating technology in an optimal way, by designing a model-based strategy to control feed intake of cows. Controlling feed intake on a herd level is too coarse; there is a lot of variation between cow feed intake response. For example, some cows are lactating, and others not. The feed intake should be tailored to serve the needs each cow individually: maintaining a healthy internal energy balance, while minimizing harmful emissions of phosphate, nitrogen, and methane.

The research challenges
The development of a model based controller raises the following scientific challenges, that will form the backbone of your research. The first challenge is to select a mechanistic energy model, and transform it into an input-state-output form that is suitable for control design. The next challenge is to extend the model  with some chemical/physiological processes that describe excretion of phosphate, nitrogen, and methane. Mechanistic models that describe the internal energy balance of cows have been developed. Such models describe how food of different compositions are processed into energy, and how this energy is allocated to milk production, gestation, body mass, fat storage, and resilience. The selected model can be trained via data sets made available within our consortium

Thereafter, the model parameters can be tuned to enable controller design for individual cows, for example via a parameter estimation algorithm.
Finally, a controller can be designed that provides reliable and automated advice on feed intake, even under uncertainty in model predictions or circumstances, for example a robust or stochastic controller. This is a basic plan. There is flexibility to develop your own research objectives and methods

Within our research consortium there are already models, data and knowledge on cow physiology, and feed intake response, which will be expanded throughout the project. Also several companies are involved that represent the state of the art in industry. This PhD project provides a unique opportunity for developing a novel control design that is tailored to the needs of the modern farming industry, and embedded in a solid scientific background.  

We ask

  • you are a motivated researcher holding a MSc in the area of systems and control, modelling and optimization, or related field;
  • you have a keen interest in optimization and control, with real-world applications;
  • you have knowledge of animal physiology, or are willing to obtain this knowledge;
  • you enjoy the interaction, communication and collaboration with other researchers in an inter-disciplinary team;
  • you are an independent researcher that can take control over his/her project;
  • you have good oral and written communication skills;
  • we encourage female researchers to apply
  • for this position your command of the English language is expected to be at C1 level
  • you meet all the entry requirements of the  WUR PhD Programme

We offer

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:

  • study leave and partially paid parental leave;
  • working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
  • the option to accrue additional compensation / holiday hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
  • there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
  • a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent pension scheme.

In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will of course receive a good salary. The gross salary for the first year is € 2.443,- per month rising to € 3.122,- in the fourth year in according to the Collective Labour Agreements for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU) (scale P). This is based on a full-time working week of 38 hours. We offer a temporary contract for 12 months which will be extended for the duration of the project if you perform well

Wageningen University & Research encourages internal advancement opportunities and mobility with an internal recruitment policy. There are plenty of options for personal initiative in a learning environment, and we provide excellent training opportunities. We are offering a unique position in an international environment with a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

You are going to work at the greenest and most innovative campus in Holland, and at a university that has been chosen as the “Best University” in the Netherlands for the 16th consecutive time.

Coming from abroad
Wageningen University & Research is the university and research centre for life sciences. The themes we deal with are relevant to everyone around the world and Wageningen, therefore, has a large international community and a lot to offer to international employees. Applicants from abroad moving to the Netherlands may qualify for a special tax relief, known as the 30% ruling. Our team of advisors on Dutch immigration procedures will help you with the visa application procedures for yourself and, if applicable, for your family

Feeling welcome also has everything to do with being well informed. Wageningen University & Research’s International Community page contains practical information about what we can do to support international employees and students coming to Wageningen. Furthermore, we can assist you with any additional advice and information about helping your partner to find a job, housing, schooling, and other issues.

More information

Do you want more information?
For more information about this position, please contact Assistant professor S (Simon) van Mourik For more information about the procedure, please contact

Do you want to apply?
You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval. This vacancy will be listed up to and including October 31, 2022

Equal opportunities
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) employs a large number of people with very different backgrounds and qualities, who inspire and motivate each other. We want every talent to feel at home in our organisation and be offered the same career opportunities. We therefore especially welcome applications from people who are underrepresented at WUR.

We are

The mission of Wageningen University and Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With its roughly 30 branches, 7.200 employees and 13.200 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. An integrated approach to problems and the cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of Wageningen’s unique approach. WUR has been named Best Employer in the Education category for 2019-2020.

The team:You will be employed at the Farm Technology (FTE) group at Wageningen University and Research. FTE has a long history in developing optimization and control for operational farm management. You will be supervised and guided by an experienced team of researchers in the area of physiological modelling, optimization, and model-based control.

Apply now

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