A Dutch engineer has constructed a prototype floating dairy farm in Rotterdam harbour and stimulated interest around the world in how the concept might be developed for other types of urban farming.
Peter van Wingerden designed the two storey floating platform to establish an urban farm providing food for the locality using environmental and sustainable processes. It uses food waste from the city and grass cuttings from sports fields and golf courses to supplement cattle feed. The cows can graze in the field on land next to the platform. Manure is collected by robots and used to fertilize the field and waste water is treated, cleaned and discharged into the harbour, or reused as processed water.
Van Wingerden sought private investors and bank loans to fund the reported cost of 2.9 million dollars to build a unit for just 40 dairy cows, with the aim of producing 800 litres of milk per day. The benefits to urban dwellers and businesses are clear – locally sourced food, less carbon emission from reduced transportation, circular processes to create sustainable farming. At such a high cost could floating farms work for the UK, in a country with extensive available farmland?
Post Brexit, UK agriculture is heading for the biggest revolution since the Second World War. We have already seen the development of hydroponic, vertical farming in extensive greenhouses, disused underground tunnels and air raid shelters, to grow fruit and vegetables protected from the elements and chemical and disease free.
Could floating platforms be created for livestock farms, poultry and egg production or vegetables in the UK’s ports, harbours and mothballed docks?
Subject to feasibility studies, floating farms could be subject to similar legal structures as large sustainable energy projects like windfarms and solar farms.
The 120 commercial UK ports are owned either privately (e.g. Bristol), by independent statutory trust corporations (e.g. Dover and the Port of London), or local authorities (e.g. Portsmouth).
Potentially a port authority could undertake the investment and construction themselves or through a joint venture between the port authority, private investors and banks. The entity would then lease the structure to a farmer or through a contract farming arrangement, and split the responsibilities for regulatory matters, insurance risk, maintenance of the structure, and operational and agricultural aspects.
The project could be undertaken by a farming enterprise financed through an investment company and bank loans, and the structure leased from the port authority along the lines of a commercial property lease or farm tenancy.
The floating structure would be subject to planning, building and safety regulations. It would need suitable access for construction traffic and farm traffic in a busy urban environment, and be subject to safety controls to anchor floating platforms in busy shipping and commercial tidal waterways. It may need to be a flexible structure that can be extended to increase production, or altered for other uses.
In addition to taking account of the impact on the environment, as with any type of farming such projects will be subject to environmental regulations on the control and disposal of waste, animal welfare, tagging and treatments, and arable fertilizers.
The lease term would have to be sufficiently long to enable recovery of the high capital outlay through rent or a percentage of turnover, allowing for reasonable profit margins for the farm operator. The lease would be subject to repair and maintenance obligations and provisions to be able to extend, reinstate or demolish at expiry of the lease, or early termination in the case of business failure.
The prohibitive costs suggest this would not warrant such a project in the UK at the moment.