PhD Position in Autofarming; Autonomous Production Control of Greenhouse Farming System Using Reinforcement Learning
Wageningen University

PhD Position in Autofarming: Autonomous Production Control of Greenhouse Farming System Using Reinforcement Learning

Published on
September 17, 2021

Location Wageningen

We are looking for

Do (Will) you have a MSc degree in Biosystem Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Optimization, or a related discipline? Are you keen for thriving tech-driven agricultural innovation ecosystems? Do you want to be a forerunner in realizing autonomous production of greenhouse farming systems? Then you are the candidate we are looking for!

Greenhouse is an important protected horticulture system in providing fresh food for the growing global population. However, it is also a big resource consumer, such as the large amount of energy usage from LED lighting and heating to maintain ideal growing climate for the crops. The main objective of greenhouse production control is realizing resource-effective crop growth and development through operating indoor climate actuators (e.g. lighting, heating, CO2 dosing, ventilation, screening, watering). In high-tech greenhouses, the modern sensing, control and computing systems are equipped but the operating set-points for the climate actuators are still rely on growers. However, the number of experienced growers is rare while the scale of greenhouse production system is expanding worldwide. Therefore, using advanced techniques to control the greenhouse production system with more optimality and autonomous in a reliable and robust way is in need nowadays challenge.

Reinforcement learning is the kind of learning system, which uses continuous feedback to adjust its own actions to obtain the best. It is also a dynamic control strategy which can update automatically the current control algorithm (policy) through incorporating newly developed knowledge learning from historical and real time data. The motivation of this project is developing autonomous production control of greenhouse farming systems using reinforcement learning, aiming to optimize the production system with desired growing climate, efficient resource usage, and at the same time adaptability to variable conditions (amongst individual plants, species and growing stages).

In this project, you will develop control-oriented crop-climate model based on crop/climate sensor measurements; develop autonomous control scheme of greenhouse production systems using reinforcement learning to achieve efficient crop growth/yield and energy usage. All the proposed approaches will be validated in real greenhouse for lettuce production. The performance will also be explored and analysed with state-of-the-practice.

Our Team
You will be working at the Wageningen University in the Farm Technology Group, one of the world’s leading research groups on greenhouse control and applications of artificial intelligent in agriculture in general. You will be supervised by assistant professor Congcong Sun, cooperated with assistant professor Simon van Mourik, and assistant professor Gert Koostra having expertise in reinforcement learning, modelling and control, computer vision, respectively, as well as specific domain knowledge of the application. Professors Peter Groot Koerkamp and Eldert van Henten will be your promotors and will guide you in your scientific training. It is your job to merge their views and experiences into an excellent PhD-thesis in such a way that the total outcomes are beyond the sum of the parts.

We ask

  • A PhD candidate with MSc degree in Biosystem Engineering, Optimization, Applied Mathematics or a related discipline;
  • Knowledge in machine learning (especially reinforcement learning) and control algorithms (e.g. model-based/free and feedback control), programming skills using MATLAB, Python is required;
  • A proven ability to think and express in scientific manner;
  • You have strong interests in agricultural production systems (especially in greenhouse systems);
  • You have excellent communication skills as well as good proficiency in English (both oral and written). You are required to show us a certification of English skills. For more information about the required level please take a look at:;
  • 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:

  • sabbatical leave, study leave, and 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 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 receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your needs and the research team. The gross salary for the first year is € 2.434,- per month rising to € 3.111,- 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.

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

For more information about this function, please contact Congcong Sun, Ass. Professor, telephone 06-18869125 or by e-mail

For more information about the procedure, please contact

General information about Farmtechnology can be found on

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 15th of October 2021.
We hope to schedule the first job interviews at the end of October.

In this first round please only send your resume and motivation letter. Any other documents will not be taken into consideration at this stage.

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. For more information please go to our inclusivity page. A good example of how WUR deals with inclusiveness can be read on the page working at WUR with a functional impairment.

We are

Wageningen University & Research

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, 6.800 employees and 12.900 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.

Read the 5 reasons why your future collaegues enjoy working at WUR and watch this video to get an idea of our green campus!

We will recruit for the vacancy ourselves, so no employment agencies please. However, sharing in your network is appreciated.

Apply now

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