When living in cities that are built near large bodies of water, it’s not uncommon to see large ships or yachts floating nearby, but a floating farm is quite a unique sight to see. However, this is what Dutch property company, Beladon, hopes to achieve with the launch of the world’s first floating farm.
The offshore farming facility in the middle of Rotterdam’s Merwehaven harbor is set to open by the end of 2018. The farm will host 40 Meuse-Rhine-Issel cows which will be milked with robots. The farm is made up of three levels and is anchored to the ocean floor. According to Beladon, the farm will be able to produce 800 liters of milk a day, which the farm will produce and pasteurize on-site along with other products such as yogurt.
The idea first came to Beladon engineer, Peter van Wingerden, in 2012 when he was stationed in New York for a floating housing project on the Hudson River. van Wingerden was then caught up in Hurricane Sandy and he experienced flooding in the city streets. The flood damaged the city’s transportation system which led to delayed food deliveries and within two days it was difficult to find fresh produce in grocery stores.
“Seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy I was struck by the need for food to be produced as near as possible to consumers,” van Wingerden told BBC. “So the idea came up to produce fresh food in a climate-adaptive way on the water.”
In fact, van Wingerden claims that his floating farm concept is resilient against hurricanes.
Beladon has gotten permission from the Authority of Rotterdam to build a prototype of their floating farm project. van Wingerden’s wife and business partner Minke van Wingerden claims that their initial 40 cow system is enough for their venture to break-even. However, she said that the farm is scalable and larger operations can produce “obvious efficiencies.”
Although the idea may come off as an unheard of concept, there is a need for innovative agricultural solutions in the food industry. With the world’s population estimated to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050, 70 percent of this population is expected to live in cities. This means that there will be a higher demand for food products and less space for farming operations. In addition, many farming operations produce gas emissions and require produce products to be transported to bigger cities, which also increases the amount of gas emissions produced.
A local and ecologically-friendly farm might just be the solution to these problems. In fact, the farm aims to reuse and recycle as much as possible with 80 percent of their cow feed being composed of waste products from Rotterdam’s food industry. This includes discarded grains from local breweries, restaurant and café leftovers, wheat mill by-products and grass clippings. The feed will also be delivered in electric vans which are provided by a local green waste company called Groen Collect. The farm will also be powered by solar panels.
“We will grow duckweed as an animal feed, too,” van Wingerden told BBC. “It is high in protein, fast-growing and can be nurtured with cow urine. We will have an installation of four or five vertical platforms growing the plant under special LED lights.”
As urban areas continue to become oversaturated with people and buildings, the agricultural industry is put in a position to shift their production methods. This is why there is a rise in indoor and vertical farming which is said to use less space, water and fertilizer than traditional farming. Grow Pod is one of the many agricultural startups that are trying to innovate local farming practices with technology. The company offers scalable, transportable and automated indoor farms that can be used to grow fresh produce all year round. A similar company called Smallhold offers scalable indoor farms for grocery stores and restaurants. A Whole Foods grocery store in Bridgewater, NJ made headlines in April for launching one of Smallhold’s indoor mushroom farms in their grocery section.
There are many reasons as to why the agricultural industry needs to focus on the future. As consumers continue to demand sustainable and eco-friendly production practices, food companies would likely increase their sales if they promote sustainability. Additionally, as the population increases, the demand for produce will follow and as the healthy eating trend grows, this demand will likely skyrocket. Local and sustainable farming solutions allow food companies to prepare for the future and appeal to the current consumer demographic.