To make more room for livestock, the Dutch will moove cows to a floating farm

Hero shot | Concept Art for the Floating Farm
Floating Farm/Beladon

In the next three decades, the global population is expected to grow by more than two billion people. That could be a problem. We already fail to feed the roughly seven and a half billion people currently living on the planet, so we’ll need to initiate entirely new agricultural systems to accommodate more.

Soon, a Dutch company will begin testing a system they think could help provide locally grown food to coastal communities: a floating farm. For centuries, the Netherlands, one of the most densely populated nations in the world, has staved off encroaching seawater through innovative engineering techniques, while making use of limited land to feed its citizens. The floating farm idea combines these two Dutch specialties — maritime engineering and agriculture.

The first floating farm will focus on dairy cows, in particular a Dutch breed called Meuse-Rhine-Issel, but Beladon, the group behind the project, hope to expand to include crops and other livestock. Intriguing as the concept may be, it’s not clear that it’s environmentally beneficial, lucrative, or scalable.

We spoke with Minke van Wingerden, co-owner of Beladon. She described a partially automated operation, where robots do the milking as cows are treated to a “bougie” experience. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Digital Trends: How did the idea for a floating farm first com about?

Minke van Wingerden: My husband came up with the idea. Seven years ago he started Beladon, a company that designs floating structures. He was busy with a project in New York in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit and Manhattan was flooded. He realized it’s important to produce fresh foods nearby cities because after two days shelves in the shops were empty.

The floating farm has three layers. The concrete layer at the bottom. Then the first floor, or the process floor. And the cows are on top.

It wasn’t the smartest idea to start with a floating dairy farm because cows are very big and curious, and they move together, so the structure has to be fairly stable. But, in the Netherlands, we’re used to floating structures and building on water. In our project, maritime technology and agriculture technology come together. That combination makes makes this project so interesting for the Dutch.

Can you describe the layout of the structure?

Well we are going to use a rubber floor that is a little elastic, so it’s good for the cows’ bones and joints. It has small canals, which we are going to clean with a manure robot. It’s easy to clean and then the robot takes away the manure, and it immediately separates the manure and urine. That’s important because when you separate that quickly it has less smell.

A video graphic showing each layer of the Floating Farm. Floating Farm/Beladon

Where does the robot take the waste?

The floating farm has three layers. The concrete layer at the bottom. Then the first floor, or the process floor. And the cows are on top. The manure goes from the top to the floor beneath, where we process the manure.

We split the manure and urine, then dry it and sell it the city as a fertilizer for grass or plants on your balcony. We are also going to use it for the cows so they can lie on it. It’s a raw material and they like lie on it.

Before we went through all the permits, we asked veterinarians if it’s OK for cows to live on platform like this.

You currently plan for 40 cows. Have you considered adding more to the herd?

This is now a private project, so we have zero subsidy and limited money. We made it as small as possible. For us, animal welfare is very important.

Cows need more space than in a regular stable, but we think that now they have about one and a half times more space than in a regular stable, so they will feel fine. This small floating farm, we call it our living lab, because this is how we are going to show the world that we can make it happen.

Minke van Wingerden floating farm beladon co-owner
Minke van Wingerden, co-owner of Beladon. Floating Farm/Belaon

How much do you plan to invest in the project?

About €2.6 million ($3 million). But we think it would be much more interesting to make it bigger and start with about 100 cows.

Who will be milking the cows?

We have hired a real farmer, who is the son of a farmer from the northern part of the Netherlands. Now he can live in the city and be a farmer. In the Netherlands, farmers have a lot of troubles with succession. A lot of young people don’t want to be farmers. I think the agriculture sector needs a little boost to be a little more sexy. That’s also why we want to make this structure so iconic — to show the world that agriculture is important because it’s our daily food source.

[The cows] can choose to stay all day but there’s also a bridge to a small pasture next to the floating farm.

As far as animal welfare, I’m wondering about potential seasickness and discomfort that the cattle might experience. How are you making sure they’re comfortable in that environment?

Before we went through all the permits, we asked veterinarians if it’s OK for cows to live on platform like this. They agreed. We are convinced that cows will be very happy on the platform because we constructed it so stable. There will be almost no movement.

How long will the cows be on the floating farm?

They can choose to stay all day but there’s also a bridge to a small pasture next to the floating farm. On the platform there is the milking robot and there will also be fresh fodder for the cows. We will create a kind of a bougie environment. Cows like to live in bougie environments, so we think that they will be very happy on the platform

What are you doing to mitigate any risks of pollution? Whenever you have animals you have quite a bit of waste that goes along with that. How are you ensuring that none of them waste or any other pollution from the farm gets into the waterway?

There’s a border around the side that the cows cannot walk on. There’s two meters between the water and the cows, so they cannot pollute the water in that way. And the bridge is completely closed, so there also can be no pollution of the water from the cows.

The plans are to make a complete floating food strip … in the harbor that you can [use to] feed, more or less, part of the city.

People are also afraid that there will be pollution of water. But the water we use we also clean on the platform, so the water we put back into the river will be cleaner than the water which is now already in it. Before we got the permit, we had to prove this.

This sort of structure seems like it could be appropriate for certain areas, like the Netherlands, but not for areas that experience strong weather or seas. Where do you think this type of structure could be used?

That’s something we have to research. In Rotterdam, we have no hurricanes and so no troubles there. But we also went to China where, for example, there are places where there has been mining and now there are wetlands. That might be a nice opportunity for a floating farm.

A video graphic showing each construction phase and overall design plan for the Floating Farm. Floating Farm/Beladon

When do you expect construction to be complete?

We expect the cows before the end of the year. The structure is almost completed. So we are now working inside it with electricity, water, and engineering. We expect we can invite all visitors in the beginning of 2019.

And when do you expect to have the first milk available?

Before the end of this year. We have also already designed a chicken farm and greenhouse. Our plans are to make a complete floating food strip to show in the harbor that you can feed more or less part of the city. We are now in a small part of the harbor, which is in transition. In the next 10 or 15 years there will be only housing and offices. Our idea is that we are going to transform this part of the area, because for us it’s important that a social community in the heart has its own food production to reconnect citizens to their food.

Product Review

Make friends. To survive the wasteland of 'Fallout 76,' you're gonna need 'em

Fallout 76 brings the nuclear wasteland online and invites you to hop in with your friends. It’s fun, and a new direction for the Fallout franchise, but it’s not without its faults.
Product Review

Fewer pixels, better camera? The Nikon Z6 shows the beauty of restraint

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.
Product Review

Anybody seen my grenades? ‘Battlefield V’ shows up late and unprepared

Battlefield V’s War Stories give us a new perspective on World War II, but the game’s lack of polish across both its campaign and multiplayer modes are almost impossible to ignore.
Product Review

It's so fast it has a clip-on fan. But the Asus ROG phone isn't just for gamers

Is a gaming smartphone only something a mobile gamer should consider buying? In the case of the Asus ROG Phone, the good news is the device is so capable, and a genuinely impressive all-rounder, that everyone should take a closer look…
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX makes rocketry look easy, sticks yet another Falcon 9 landing

SpaceX is due to perform its latest Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing on November 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Here's how you can watch the proceedings live.
Emerging Tech

In a weighty decision, scientists prepare to redefine the kilogram

Metrologists are meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles to vote on whether to redefine the kilogram as a constant that can be observed in the natural world.

See the National Forests like never before in these awe-inspiring drone videos

What's the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Drones. With no ban on drones in National Forests -- at least, not yet -- filmmakers have a way to capture the immensity of these locations with stunning results.
Emerging Tech

Google’s balloon internet is coming to Kenya in 2019

In order to bring the internet to those who lack it, a company called Loon is launching balloons into the stratosphere. From more than 12 miles up, these balloons beam connectivity over a large area on the ground.
Emerging Tech

Hikers missing on Mount Fuji could soon find a drone buzzing above their heads

Hikers who go missing while climbing Japan's highest mountain could soon find a drone buzzing above their head. A new system using the flying machines has been set up on Mount Fuji for future search-and-rescue missions.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk receives FCC approval to launch over 7,500 satellites into space

Not surprisingly, SpaceX is thinking big with Starlink, its space-based global broadband network. This week, the company received FCC approval to launch 7,518 satellites into a low-Earth orbit for its satellite internet service.

The world’s first 3D-printed titanium wheels are so intricate they look fake

HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive have teamed up to create the world's first 3D-printed titanium wheels. They are not only impressively durable, but extremely lightweight as well.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.