A fully functioning dairy farm, complete with a farmer, 40 cows, and robots to milk and clean up after them, is expected to launch before the end of 2018.[i]
Located in Rotterdam’s harbor, Europe’s largest port, the farm will be self-sustaining, produce fewer carbon emissions than farms on land, and sidestep the pollution-producing problem of transporting milk long distances from rural farms to the city.
Floating Farm is designed to be part of a circular economy within the city limits. It will use waste food from local cafes and restaurants to provide 80 percent of the cattle feed, returning farm-fresh milk every day to the city’s thirsty residents. It will grow duckweed, a fast-growing high-protein animal feed that can take nutrients from the cows’ urine, that be grown vertically on the farm to supplement the animals’ food. The project also will generate sustainable energy in the form of hydrogen produced through solar-powered electrolysis, according to a recent BBC News article.[ii]
Dutch property company Beladon, along with a group of partners including Cargill and Phillips, built the farm, which is anchored to the ocean floor and designed to be stable, moving only a few millimeters even in extreme weather conditions. The cows “will not feel any instability on the platform,’’ according to the company website,iii “Seasickness will therefore not be in question.’’
The cows, a breed called Montbéliarde, provide 25 liters (6.6 gallons) of milk a day on average. They will have access to roomy stables and a pasture within the three-level floating farm, moored to the northern banks of Rotterdam’s Merwehaven docklands, just outside the city center. The project makes use of a previously deserted area of water in a part of the city that was not well used.
The project was the brainchild of Beladon engineer, Peter van Wingerden, who thought of the idea of the Floating Farm while he was in New York in 2012, working on a floating housing project on the Hudson River, the BBC News reported. During van Wingerden’s time there, Hurricane Sandy hit the city. Seeing the impact of flooding that hampered deliveries and quickly emptied shops of fresh produce, he said, “I was struck by the need for food to be produced as near as possible to consumers.’’
The idea of building on water is gaining interest as populations grow, cities expand and the proportion of fertile, usable land diminishes. Innovation in new technologies to feed the world are increasingly important. While it’s starting small, the Floating Farm project is scalable and has several advantages over terrestrial farms: It uses no land. It doesn’t contribute to city expansion, deforestation or depletion of soil. Because it floats, it is able to cope with flooding or rising waters due to climate change. And it’s a kind of living classroom for students, researchers and businesses.
As the first of its kind in the world, Floating Farm can provide a model for other novel projects that solve multiple problems, from air pollution to land scarcity to food insecurity, its backers say.[iii] Cities with waterways that flow into the city center could well look at this model as a “floating high-tech solution.’’
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