From grazing cows to milk production, everything at this farm happens on the water

Ag & Food |  3 min. read

Where is our dinner of the future going to come from?

We’ve already told you about indoor farms and vertical farms and robot farms and indoor vertical robot farms.

And we know — with a growing population, and a shrinking space to grow food, the farmers (and eaters) of tomorrow are going to have to get creative.

Now here’s the latest brainstorm:  a floating farm.

(Photo from Floating Farm)

The Floating Farm (its actual name) is on a “barge”, which is anchored in a quiet spot in the harbor of the Dutch city, Rotterdam.

And on that barge?  Cows.  A floating dairy farm with room for 40 cows (there are currently a little over 30) — the grazing, the milking, and the processing of that milk — it all happens on water.  No land required (although the cows can get shore leave if they want).

On this farm…some of the milk is turned into yogurt, some is kept for drinking, and in the future, keep an eye out for Floating Cow Cheese (ok, maybe not under THAT name).  And that lightweight, protective cover on top?  That’s a translucent polycarbonate that allows filtered sunlight in, and keeps bad weather out.  It’s also lightweight which helps prevent excess motion from waves.

Polycarbonates, by the way, are the same tough material that bullet-proof glass is made from, so they can definitely handle the task of warding off rain and hail.  And, whatever polycarbonates are used to stop — making them starts with the petrochemicals propylene and benzene.

The barge has comfy stalls for the cows, a padded surface underneath (typically made from a high-tech polyurethane, with a polyethylene cover to protect the padding from cow poop). There’s a robot to collect that cow poop (and that is one job we can probably all agree is better for automation), another robot does the milking. There’s even an automated massage brush…

(Photo from Floating Farm)

Boy do the cows love those massage brushes.  Not only do they feel good, they also keep bugs off and help keep the cows clean and comfortable.  Those bristles have to be tough, so they’re usually made from nylon or polypropylene.  (You might remember that polypropylene comes from the petrochemical building block propylene.  Nylon is a little more complex.  It starts with butadiene and goes through a series of chemical reactions that eventually make nylon.)

And if you know your dairy cows, these particular cows are Maas-Rijn-Ijssel cows …just sayin’ (we didn’t know either).

(Photo from Floating Farm)

Solar panels provide the energy (with an assist from the petrochemical ethylene, used to make the sheets that protect solar panels from the elements).  Rainwater is collected and used.  Most of the food for the cattle comes from Rotterdam’s food waste, grains from breweries, potato peels, mowed grass, so the farm has a pretty light footprint.

So why a floating farm?

Because about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, which means if we’re running short of land, floating farms have plenty of room to grow.

Because it brings growing food right into the city and in a world that’s increasingly urban, that’s where most of us eaters are.

Because a floating farm means food doesn’t have to go far to reach the people eating it (the idea for this, in fact, came from the example of Hurricane Sandy, when New Yorkers were scrambling to find food for a few days).

Ok, and maybe a little bit because it is cool.

Now, are floating farms going to produce enough food to feed the entire world?  No.  But there isn’t going to be any one solution to the problem of growing more food, for more people, on less land.  We are going to need lots of answers. And floating farms just might be one of them.

You can see for yourself if you’re in Rotterdam.  To get a firsthand look at one take on the future, look for the Floating Farm in the Merwe4Haven area of the port.


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