Feature: World's first floating dairy farm

By: Chris McCullough

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Construction of the world’s first floating dairy farm is under way in the Netherlands, Chris McCullough reports

Cows in meadow near Kinderdijk in The Netherlands
Cows in a meadow near Kinderdijk in The Netherlands

It has taken a lot of time to get the green light but finally construction of the world’s first floating dairy farm is under way in the Netherlands.

This innovative farm is being built at Rotterdam and will be home to 40 dairy cows when completed. The idea is that the farm will supply the city with fresh dairy products every day, produced, say the developers, "in an animal-friendly and circular manner".

Three concrete floats are currently being constructed in a drydock that together form the foundations for the floating farm. These floats are scheduled to be shipped to their definitive location in the Merwe4Haven in Rotterdam in the middle of May.

However, over the course of developing this farm a few target dates have been shifted along the way, prolonging the final opening.

The brains behind this bold move are from Courage, the innovation institute of the Dutch agriculture and dairy sector; Uit Je Eigen Stad, the national frontrunner on city farming; and Beladon, a leading Dutch company on floating concepts.

Peter van Wingerden is the project initiator on behalf of property developer Beladon. He says this is a real milestone for the project.

Three concrete floats are currently being constructed in a drydock that together form the foundations for the floating farm
A floating farm is the perfect scalable solution for cities such as Rotterdam, with a lot of space on the water

"We are absolutely delighted that construction of the floating farm has now begun," he says. "After all the preparations, this is an unprecedented milestone for everyone who has worked to get this project up and running.

"Building on water always brings additional challenges with it, although it offers us the opportunity to restore food production to the inner city at the same time.

"We believe that building on water is the way ahead in a country with a changing climate and ever-increasing urbanisation. Floating farm is the perfect scalable solution for cities such as Rotterdam, with a lot of space on the water.

"In addition, we see huge opportunities for this prototype all over the world. We will be building with all due speed in the months ahead, so that we can welcome our first cattle later this year," he adds.

Other benefits of such a system, close to urban populations, is reducing the distance that milk and other dairy products need to be transported to urban consumers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting shoppers back in touch with nature and farming.

The farm will house 40 cows on the floating structure, measuring 40m x 32m.

The cows will be able to use a ‘cow garden’ at the top of the structure, with a soft floor which will have the feel of a natural living environment. There will be trees and bushes available to offer areas of shade and the roof of the cow garden can be entirely opened.

Urine produced by the cows will drain through the floor and into an airtight storage facility. By keeping it contained there, ammonia emissions will be limited and it will be able to be distributed for use as fertiliser for city farms. Manure, on the other hand, will be collected and stored separately.

A biodigester will be employed to turn the manure into biogas and fertilisers, which in turn can be used to help grow the grass used to feed the cows. Rainwater too will be collected and filtered for the cows to drink. Cows will have access to an adjacent pasture by using a bridge between the farm and the dock to cross the water, when tides permit. The cows will be milked with a robotic milking machine and they will have access to additional grass on the farm grown under LED lighting.

Three concrete floats are currently being constructed in a drydock that together form the foundations for the floating farm

If the trial period is deemed a success the facilities will be extended so the farm can house 200 cows producing 5000kg of milk per day. Raw milk will be dispensed to consumers via a public ‘milk tap’ and vending machines will sell processed produce. Dairy produce will also be sold to local catering outlets, hotels and shops.

The new farm will showcase the latest technology money can buy and is said to be an enormous asset for the Dutch agricultural sector.

"Realisation of the floating farm is an enormous asset for the Dutch agricultural sector as a whole," says Carel de Vries, project initiator on behalf of the Courage innovation organisation. "It’s almost impossible to bring cows and dairy processing closer to the city residents. Moreover, the latest technology will be tested on the floating farm going forward with the aim of drastically reducing environmental impact.

"We are developing opportunities that will benefit the entire dairy farming sector throughout the country in the fields of animal welfare, manure processing and circularity. We are thankful for the help we have had to date from all partners involved."

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