The World's First Floating Farm in Rotterdam

The $3 million project will house 40 cows and aim to produce 800 liters of milk a day

Jane Werrell

Dairy farmers at a floating farm in Rotterdam may soon be faced with an unusual question: Can cows get seasick?

The farm, located in the center of Rotterdam’s Merwehaven harbor, is expected to house about 40 cows that will be milked by robots.

“It’s really re-thinking a farm,” said the architect, Klaas van der Molen. “Normally, a farm is not on the water.”

He was tasked with the project by Dutch property developers Beladon, who want to help the city produce food more sustainably.

Beladon hopes to have the first cows on board before the end of the year and aims to officially open to the public in March 2019.

A City Farm

Van der Molen says the floating farm is the start of transforming the now-empty harbor into the attractive site it used to be, before changes in shipping and distribution methods.

“It’s a chance to make it really lively as it was before, because harbors were super-active,” he said.

He predicts that in the next 10 to 15 years, property developers will buy up parts of the harbor to build apartment blocks, and the farm will be part of that urbanization.

The farm plans to produce 800 liters of milk a day, as well as yogurt and cheese to sell to local businesses.

The majority of the cows' feed, about 80 percent, will come from leftover produce from local city businesses that would otherwise be wasted. The remaining fodder will be transported by electric cars from a field just outside Rotterdam.

And the future vision is to have not just cows, but chickens, too.

Transport Issue

The 2.6 million euro ($3 million) project is the brainchild of Peter van Wingerden, a partner at Beladon, who came up with the concept in 2012 after witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Sandy while on a trip to New York.

“[Peter] was in New York for a project,” said his wife, Minke, who left her job two years ago to work full time on the floating farm.

 Minke van Wingerden, a partner at Beladon, stands in front of the construction site. (Beladon)
Minke van Wingerden, a partner at Beladon, stands in front of the construction site. (Beladon)

“Manhattan was completely flooded. Food trucks come in and out to bring food to Manhattan and New York City. After two days, there was no fresh food on the shelves anymore,” she said. "He realized if something like a flooding happens, there’s a big issue of transport. So why not look at opportunities at fresh food in or near the city?

"Then you look at the world map, most cities are situated in the water, so why not use the water?"

The project is privately funded by Minke and her husband—who are partners at Beladon—as well as by local Dutch businesses and entrepreneurs

The Building

Planned with galvanized steel and floating concrete, the building will have three levels, with the lowest level—to be used mainly for storage—submerged three meters into the water.
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Apple, iPhone, and iPad are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

The cows will be able to roam freely on the top floor. They will be shaded from sunlight with artificial trees and a pergola, and a robot will clean up their manure. The cows also will be able to potter over a bridge to graze in a field on dry land.

The ground level will be the production zone for making milk and yogurt, and for recycling the manure. Visitors will be able to see the food-production process for themselves, as the walls will be made of glass.

 The floating farm in progress. (Benadom)
The floating farm in progress. (Benadom)

In line with regulations, no one will be able to build or live within a 109-yard circumference of the farm, so odor shouldn't be an issue.

And research shows that seasickness won't be an issue for the cows, Minke said.

"Cows won't get seasick," she said. "Animal welfare is very important to us, and the cows are the heart of our farm."