With the chair group Soil Biology at Wageningen Campus we have a PhD position:

Harnessing soil functions for livestock farming


Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wageningen UR) is a leading international organization. Within the field of healthy nutrition and living environment we are working on the quality of life. The Soil Biology Group blends expertise from the soil, plant and ecological sciences in cutting edge research and education in the areas of Fertile Soil; Soils in a Changing Climate; and Soil Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services.

Devenish is a farming and food company, delivering sustainable and innovative nutritional products and solutions for the feed industry, the food industry and for human health.

This PhD project is part of the EU2020 project HeartLand (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Rural development: Training network for LAND management), an Innovative Training Network of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions.


Ruminants are increasingly in the spotlight because of their impact on the environment and human health. Ruminant farming has been associated with land use change (especially deforestation), greenhouse gas emissions, pollution of soils and water, biodiversity loss, and noncommunicable diseases. Grazing ruminants, however, can also have positive contributions. Ruminants not only convert biomass unsuitable for direct human consumption into valuable food; in addition, grazing systems can also provide a wide range of other ecosystem services, such as enhancing biodiversity, increasing carbon sequestration, and water regulation. Therefore, there is a need to re-think contemporary livestock farming system so that they contribute to, rather than compromise, healthy farms, healthy people and a healthy planet. The diversity of farm types and managements will require the formulation of differentiated transition pathways in line with societal demands.

The EU HeartLand project aims to train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative PhD graduates to investigate how to create economically and environmentally sustainable livestock products of enhanced nutritional value through pasture-based production systems. HeartLand will explore and integrate the relationships between soil, sward, animal, farm management, environment and ultimately human health. HeartLand will be recruiting 5 PhD candidates to develop their projects in the domains of soil biology, grassland sciences and sward composition, animal nutrition and performance, farming systems and modelling, and environmental sciences.

This PhD project corresponds to the domain of Functional Land Management: maximizing synergies between sward composition and soil functions. The project will be developed at the Soil Biology Group of Wageningen University & Research (the Netherlands) in the first year, and at Devenish Nutrition (Ireland) the subsequent three years.


A PhD candidate to explore the contribution of sward management to simultaneously optimize the following soil functions: production of feed, provision of habitats for both functional and intrinsic biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and cycling of nutrients. In a component research and an on-farm research trial, effects of sward plant species diversity and manure application will be studied on soil structure formation, functional soil biodiversity, carbon stabilization, and micro-nutrient provisioning to herbage. The PhD student will work in close cooperation with the four other PhD candidates, in particular with the candidate who’s focus will be on sward composition, earthworm abundance and water infiltration.

This research project will involve field sampling and laboratory experiments and analyses, statistical analysis, and publication of results. Participatory approaches with relevant stakeholders will also take place.


For this interdisciplinary project, we are looking for an enthusiastic result-driven person with a master degree in soil science, soil ecology, environmental sciences, or organic agriculture or plant sciences with a focus on soil biology, and an interest to work with other agricultural disciplines. You have excellent command of the English language, and you communicate efficiently, have excellent writing skills, and excel in problem solving. You have experience in soil-related experiments and are familiar with data management. In addition, you are a team-player and are highly effective in time and project planning.

Prerequisites for application subject to the Innovative Training Network of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions:

  • You have been living and working/studying outside the Netherlands before 1st March 2018
  • Be available and willing to travel



  • A challenging job for a period of 4 years (12 months at Soil Biology Group with an extension of 36 months at Devenish Nutrition after successful evaluation).
  • A job in an international setting with varied work and plenty of opportunities for personal development in a pleasant and open working environment.
  • The gross salary will be of € 2,325 per month.
  • Good training and education opportunities
  • Expected starting date: 1st September 2019



For questions about this vacancy you can contact Dr. Ron de Goede (Mail: ron.degoede@wur.nl) or Dr. Jean Kennedy (Mail: jean.kennedy@Devenish.com).


You can apply until (and including) May 15th 2019. Upload your CV and a short motivation letter via the website of Wageningen University & Research; https://www.wur.nl/en/Jobs.htm

Please don’t email directly to the persons mentioned above.

Closing date 15 May 2019 at 5:00 pm

Devenish Nutrition Ltd is an Equal Opportunities Employer and welcomes applications from all sections of the community