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PHD modelling and control for sustainable dairy farming

Are you that enthusiastic researcher that likes to work on modelling and control, and apply it to improve processes in agriculture and food production?This …

2 maanden geleden


Droevendaalsesteeg, Wageningen, Gelderland
Tijdelijk contract / Tijdelijke opdracht
Uren per week:
38 - 38 uur


Are you that enthusiastic researcher that likes to work on modelling and control, and apply it to improve processes in agriculture and food production?

This PhD is part of the Synergia project (https://technology4ecology.org/). 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
A basic mechanistic model of the internal energy balance of cows is available. This model describes 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. This model may serve as a starting point for your research. The plan is to extend this model with some chemical/physiological processes that result in emissions of phosphate, nitrogen, and methane, via excretion, urine, or breath. The model can be trained via data sets made available within our consortium. Thereafter, the model should be tuned for individual cows, for example via a parameter estimation algorithm. Finally, a controller should be designed that provides good advice, even under uncertainty in model predictions or circumstances, for example a robust or stochastic controller. This is the basic plan. Additionally, there is flexibility to develop your own research objectives and methods.

Within our research consortium there is already a vast amount of data and knowledge on cow physiology, and feed intake response, which will be expanded throughout the project. Also several companies are involved to represent the state of the art in industry. This 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.


  • 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
  • This position requires an excellent English language proficiency (a mininum of CEFR C1 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page.


The job is for a period of 4 years (1 year, and after a positive evaluation extension for another 3 years) at an international leading organization. Gross salary per month € 2395,- in the first year rising to € 3061,- per month in the fourth year, for a fulltime appointment. The candidate will be based at UU with active collaboration with colleagues at WUR.

In addition, we offer:
  • 8% holiday allowance;
  • a structural year-end bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions;
  • flexible working hours and holidays can possibly be determined in consultation so that an optimal balance between work and private life is possible;
  • excellent pension plan through ABP;
  • 232 vacation hours, the option to purchase extra and good supplementary leave schemes;
  • a flexible working time;
  • a choice model to put together part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan;
  • a lively workplace where you can easily make contacts and where many activities take place on the Wageningen Campus. A place where education, research and business are represented;
  • use the sports facilities on campus.
Wageningen University & Research stimulates internal career opportunities and mobility with an internal recruitment policy. There are ample opportunities for own initiative in a learning environment.
We offer a versatile job in an international environment with varied activities in a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

Additional information

For more information about this function, please contact Assistant professor dr.ir. S (Simon) van Mourik simon.vanmourik@wur.nl
For more information about the procedure, please contact vacaturemeldingen.psg@wur.nl

You can apply up to and including November 1, 2020
For this position you can only apply online: http://www.wageningenur.nl/career

Please upload a motivation letter, CV, and (maximum) 1 recommendation letter when available. Do not upload more than 6 pages in total. Applications exceeding this limit will be considered ineligible.