As cargo ships exporting millions of tonnes of Dutch dairy products sail from Rotterdam Europort, a floating concrete base anchored in the docks this month is now being fitted with the three-storey structure that will become the world's first floating dairy farm by the end of this year.
The €2.6m investment will host 40 cows, which will roam freely between the on-board milking and feeding robots, and a small grazing patch on the quays, said Minke van Wingerden of the specialist floating construction firm Beladon, whcih is supporting the project. Young stock will be reared on a traditional farm outside the city.
Urban by-product feed
After failing to grow their own fodder under artificial light in the platform's hold, the farm's manager has struck agreements with food processors in the city, including brewers, to source 80% of the farm's feed from industrial by-products.
The floating structure will include a processing plant to make fresh products, such as yoghurt, for sale to neighbouring urban customers. Rainwater harvesting and a purification system, separating manure between organic fertiliser and clean water released into the harbour, complete the farm's efforts to be as circular as possible.
The port authority thought we were nuts
The farm aims to bring country and city closer together – as illustrated by initial problems in setting it up: "Our neighbour is a kiwi [fruit] distributor and was worried about the smell getting into kiwis," van Wingerden said. "The port authority thought we were nuts. You need to have these discussions."
Her firm has now obtained permission to build a chicken farm and a greenhouse on two more floating structures in the same dock, she added.
The farm has not yet worked out its milk production costs, but van Wingerden said that its dairy products would be more expensive than those on regular supermarket shelves. "The business case is OK, because we sell tickets to visitors and will offer venue hire, but we would advise to make it bigger to be profitable," van Wingerden said.
Cuddle the cows
A privately-owned commercial venture, the floating farm is also fundraising online to buy its cows. "For €1,500 you can donate a cow and you may name her yourself. We will take a pretty picture of you and the cow," its website suggests. Should a company wish to become a corporate sponsor for €500, "every year, two employees can come and cuddle the cows – free of charge!"
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