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Food & Hunger

The World's First Floating Dairy Farm Could Revolutionize Milk Production


Why Global Citizens Should Care
By 2050, nearly 70% of the population will likely live in cities. We will need to find creative ways to feed everyone while mitigating impact on the environment. Join us in taking action on this issue here.

The Dutch port city of Rotterdam will test out the world's first floating dairy farm this fall, NBC News reports.

Cities around the world are experimenting with urban agriculture and seeking space-efficient ways to grow food locally. But Rotterdam is taking these efforts to the next level. The Dutch company, Beladon, has designed a dairy farm that will float on the river.

Peter van Wingerden, an engineer at Beladon, first came up with the idea in 2012 after seeing the devastation Hurricane Sandy had caused New York City.

"So the idea came up to produce fresh food in a climate-adaptive way on the water," he told BBC.

"With increasing demand for healthy food, fast-growing urbanization, and climate change, we can't rely on the food production systems of the past any more," he said.

Take Action: Ensure All Communities Can Withstand Climate Disaster

Consisting of three levels, the farm will grow grass on its roof, house cattle on the second floor, and utilize the bottom level to process the dairy products.

In the beginning, the float will house 40 cows that will be milked by robots, but it could be "easily scalable," said Van Wingerden.

"It's a logical step to produce fresh food on the water. Most big cities are situated in [river] deltas, and it's easy to use the deltas for food production," Minke van Wingerden, a partner at Beladon, said to NBC News.

Designed to be a largely self-sustaining system, the floating farm will grow grass to feed the cows and sell their manure as fertilizer. And robots will be tasked with all of the poop-scooping.

Cattle will primarily feed on grass grown aboard the farm and used grain from local breweries, but they will also occasionally be able to graze on nearby land. Around 80% of the cows diet will be food waste.

That's a big deal because cattle notoriously consume a lot of resources.

"If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million," David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said in a statement.

The dairy farm, which plans to deliver 200 gallons of milk and yogurt to consumers each day, would bring urban dwellers closer to the source of their food production. Raw milk would be sold at a public "milk tap," Western Producer reports. Processed products would also be available at vending machines, as well as local hotels and businesses.

Read More: Amsterdam Is Making Eco-Islands Filled With Affordable Housing

While the invention could be a glimpse into the future of food production in cities globally, the floating farm has also been met with some skepticism. Weslynne Ashton, a professor of environmental management and sustainability at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, voiced concern that the farm could have unintended environmental consequences such as water pollution and excessive transportation-related emissions, reports NBC News.

"We need a lot of experiments ... that are attempting to figure out smart ways to sustainably feed growing urban populations," she said.

Overall, research suggests that growing and producing food in cities can have significant environmental benefits, by providing educational opportunities, promoting health, and reducing "food miles" After all, if the population growth follows its current trend, nearly 70% of people are expected to live in cities by 2050 and creative solutions will be required to ensure everyone is fed.

Currently, 108 million people face severe food insecurity and situation is expected to worsen. By 2050, there will likely be another two billion people on the planet, requiring global food production to increase by 50%. The stakes are high for us to find new and innovative ways to grow and produce food.