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Holland opens its first self recycle offshore dairy farm in the port of Rotterdam

Saturday, August 18th 2018 - 08:00 UTC
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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 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

The world's first offshore dairy farm opens in the Port of Rotterdam this year, with the aim of helping the city produce more of its own food sustainably. A Dutch property company, Beladon, is launching the world's first “floating farm” in a city port.

 It has built the offshore facility right in the middle of Rotterdam's Merwehaven harbor and will use it to farm 40 Meuse-Rhine-Issel cows milked by robots.

Built-up urban areas may not seem like the most sensible places to run farms, but reducing the distance food travels before it reaches consumers' plates makes environmental sense as it reduces transport pollution. And if the global population grows to 9.8 billion by 2050 as expected, 70% are forecast to live in cities - up from 55% today.

So urban indoor farms, where produce is grown vertically on stacks of shelves under ultraviolet lights, are - literally - on the rise. Beladon's farm, which is on three levels and is anchored to the ocean floor, is expected to open at the end of 2018 and produce about 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 I was struck by the need for food to be produced as near as possible to consumers,” says Mr. van Wingerden. “So the idea came up to produce fresh food in a climate-adaptive way on the water.”

The concept would be resilient against hurricanes, too, he adds.

At first people thought the idea was “weird, funny or unbelievable”, he says, but they have started to come round. “With increasing demand for healthy food, fast-growing urbanization and climate change, we can't rely on the food production systems of the past anymore,” he says.

Later in 2012, his team began working on the design and talking to the Port Authority in Rotterdam. Despite its initial hesitations about the potential noise and smell, the port gave Beladon a space to build a prototype. Since then the farm has taken shape, and earlier this summer its floating platform was moved by barge from Zaandam in the north of Holland, to Rotterdam.

Peter's wife and business partner, Minke van Wingerden, says the farm will start with 40 cows, enough for the venture to break even. But she says it is “easily scalable”, with larger operations promising “obvious efficiencies”.

The farm also aims to reuse and recycle as much as it can. “At least 80% of what our cows eat will be waste products from Rotterdam's food industry,” says the farm's general manager, Albert Boersen.

That might include grains discarded by local breweries, leftovers from restaurants and cafes, by-products from local wheat mills, and even grass clippings, all collected and delivered in electric trucks provided by local “green waste” firm GroenCollect.

“We will grow duckweed as an animal feed, too,” says Ms van Wingerden. “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.”

The project will even generate some of its own energy - hydrogen produced through electrolysis powered by solar panels.

Once up and running, the farm will produce and pasteurize milk and yoghurt on-site and sell it in Rotterdam. It will also process and sell its own cow manure.

Dr Fenton Beed, a team leader at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, thinks urban farms are useful because they tend to use less water, fertilizer and pesticide than conventional production systems. But he also acknowledges that space limitations may prevent enough food being produced to supply the world's burgeoning urban populations.

“Constraints to producing food in controlled environments include costs for initial investment, LED lighting and continuous energy supplies,” says Dr Beed.

“That means that unless policies incentivize the engagement of smaller producers, this technology will be reserved for income-rich private and public entities.” But such concerns aren't stopping companies like Plenty from attracting significant investment.

The San Francisco-based start-up produces leafy greens in indoor farms and claims it can grow up to 350 times more per square meter than outdoor field farms.

Its crops are grown on six-meter vertical poles, using hydroponics - a water-only feeding system - and LED lights. No soil or pesticides are used. Infrared sensors monitor how the crops are faring so that the system can adjust light, heat and water flow accordingly.

Since it was founded in 2013, Plenty has raised US$ 226m from investors such as Amazon's Jeff Bezos, SoftBank's Vision Fund and Innovation Endeavors. This year it will expand its US operations and open its first farm in the Middle East.

Japan's Spread is another firm developing automated vegetable-growing in vertical urban settings with its Techno Farm concept.

Top Comments

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  • RedBaron

    What on earth has this article got to do with South America or the Falkland Islands? In any case, who wants to consume even more tasteless Dutch product? Their cheese, tomatoes, beer, and all their “cuisine” is totally tasteless, so there cannot possibly be any interest for non-Dutch in this flight of fantasy.

    Aug 18th, 2018 - 09:51 am 0
  • DemonTree

    Agricultural exports are an important part of the economy for all the Mercosur countries, and the Falklands too, so probably new developments in farming are relevant, even bizarre ones like this. If this farm is supposed to withstand a hurricane, will they still be able to feed the cows and power everything when nothing is running?

    Aug 18th, 2018 - 05:26 pm 0
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