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Materials Planet Care

147: Floating farm

Problem:

Energy is used to transport farm produce from the countryside to towns and cities and to keep it fresh during transit.

Solution:

A floating dairy farm


In June 2019, a Dutch property company called Beladon launched the world’s first floating dairy farm anchored to the ocean’s floor in the middle of Rotterdam’s Merwehaven harbour. 40 Meuse-Rhine-Issel cows are milked by Lely robots to produce 1700 pints (800 liters) of milk a day.

Peter van Wingerden, an engineer at Beladon, came up with the idea in 2012 when he was in New York working on a floating housing project on the Hudson River.

While there, Hurricane Sandy struck, flooding the city streets and crippling its transport networks. Deliveries struggled to get through and within two days it was hard to find fresh produce in shops. Seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy van Wingerden was struck by the need for food to be produced as near as possible to consumers.

The top floor of the cow garden houses greenhouses for clover, grass, and other crops that feed the cows; the middle level is the animals’ floating home, a grassy enclosure meant to resemble a natural garden, but populated with artificial trees.

The cows called Karma, Courage, and Sustainabetty are free to roam in and out of their stalls, and also have the option to graze on solid ground in an adjacent field they can access via a ramp. Lely Robots provide them with fodder and brush them down. Finally, the bottom floor contains a processing plant, turning fresh milk into consumer products, including yogurt and, possibly, Comté-style cheese.

All of this futuristic food manufacturing is happening behind glass walls to literally emphasize transparency. School children and consumers are being invited to tour the farm and watch robots milk the cows and pick up their waste, which is used as fertilizer or converted into energy for on-site use.

To power it, the farm uses solar and wind energy from rooftop windmills and solar panels, while artificial trees with real ivy provide shade for the cows and reduce energy consumption by cooling the space.

One of the Dutch farming organizations that collaborated with Beladon is planning to take the same concept to other cities, and is already developing a floating vegetable and egg farm. Before they move on to chickens, however, they will hopefully have solved one current problem: what to do about that distinct animal farm odour.

The cows arrived on board in April 2019. No matter how much rain falls, no matter how high sea level goes, this farm can always produce life-essential, healthy food. By August, floating production was more than 160 gallons (600 litres) of milk a day.

Van Wingerden has talked to food companies and developers seeking to bring buoyant dairies to Singapore, Dubai, and New York.

Discover Solution 148: Fibreglass boat recycling system

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