Dutch farm bids for urban dairy production

One of the inhabitants of Peter van Wingerden’s pioneering floating dairy farm in Rotterdam harbor. (AP)
Updated 29 June 2019
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Dutch farm bids for urban dairy production

  • New sustainable way of producing food that minimises transportation

ROTTERDAM: Peter van Wingerden’s dairy smallholding smells just like any other farm — the rich aroma of cow manure and grass hangs in the air around the unusual stable housing the cattle. The farm itself is far from traditional.

Moored in a small harbor in Rotterdam’s busy port, the farm is a futuristic three-story floating structure where one robot milks the cows and another automatically scoops up the manure that gives the enterprise its familiar smell.

Its roof collects rainwater and a raft of solar panels floating alongside produces 40 percent of the energy the farm needs.

The cows, gazing out over ships transporting gas and yellow cranes unloading ships, eat a mixture of grass cut from the local golf course and the field used by Rotterdam’s top soccer team, grain used by a local brewer and potato peelings — all cut, mixed and transported to food troughs by conveyer belts.

As countries around the world seek to meet the challenge of feeding growing populations in a sustainable way, Van Wingerden believes the farm, which opened in May and cost about €3 million ($3.4 million), demonstrates a new sustainable way of producing food close to where most of it is consumed — in the world’s cities.

“Transporting all this food all over the world is really polluting the world. It’s doing damage to food quality, it creates food losses,” he said in a recent interview. “So we have to find a different model. We have to bring it much closer to the citizens. And that’s what we’re showing over here.”

The fully-functioning showcase of circular-economy farming combines Dutch expertise in recycling, building on water and automated agriculture is drawing interest from around the world. Van Wingerden said he is already discussing floating farms in Singapore and China. A group is looking into locating one in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

“We should stop exporting food, but we should start exporting knowledge and technology,” Van Wingerden said.

When the herd reaches its target capacity of 40 cows — there are currently 35 — it will produce 800 liters (211 gallons) of milk each day. The brown and white cows are a breed called Maas-Rijn-Ijssel — named for three rivers that flow through the Dutch region they originate from.

The farm pasteurizes the milk and turns some into yoghurt on the pontoon. Manure is processed for use as fertilizer.

Jan Willem van der Schans, a senior researcher at Wageningen Economic Research who specializes in urban farming and circular economy issues, said floating farms could be the future for some sectors of agriculture such as fruit and some vegetables in some parts of the world. But he thinks that the level of automation and the unnatural surroundings of the cows may create opposition to the project.

However, Van Wingerden said that animal welfare is his top priority, pointing to many design elements in the construction that are intended to make life as easy as possible for the cows. 

The cows certainly appear comfortable on the water. 

“They don’t get seasick at all,” Van Wingerden said.


More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

Updated 22 September 2019

More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

  • GITEX is an international platform

DUBAI: More than 100 Saudi organizations, including government entities, private companies and startups, are participating at the upcoming GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, from Oct. 6 to 10, indicating an increase in Saudi participation from last year at the annual technology gathering.

Bringing in one of the biggest contingents at the event, at 114, Saudi Arabia is also an official partner of GITEX this year, which is expecting to host more than 100,000 visitors over four days at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

“There’s a lot of collaboration and integration in this region — there’s a lot of learning and sharing. GITEX is an international platform. This is where the Saudi contingent comes — from the big enterprise sector to the startup ecosystem — to interact with hundreds and thousands of visitors from over 140 countries,” Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president of events management at DWTC, told reporters on Sunday.

LohMirmand also noted a spike in Saudi participation at the GITEX Future Stars, a concurrent event that focuses on the region’s startup community.

“We have a big Saudi Innovation Day. In fact, Saudis are again bringing a big contingent of startups. It’s led by the deputy minister of communications from Saudi Arabia to explore partnerships and discuss the opportunities in the region, particularly for startups,” she said, referring to the three special sessions that will focus on the Kingdom’s technology drive.

This increase in participation, LohMirmand said, is a reflection of a bigger “impetus on innovation and the getting the startup community going” in the region.

“We see a lot of new tech coming out, so there’s a lot of interest to give these companies an opportunity to connect to the rest of the world. When you come to GITEX, we connect you to the rest of the world — we host over 500 investors from all around the world, including from Silicon Valley,” she added.

Firat Aktas, DWTC’s director of brand innovation and communication, stressed: “You can see what’s happening around the world — the Saudis are showing their ambition very clearly in various industries.”

Earlier this year, the Saudi Telecom Company signed a deal with Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to launch commercial 5G services in the Kingdom. “The roll-out continues. It’s a huge deployment in different parts of Saudi Arabia,” Wojciech Bajda, head of Gulf Council countries and global customer unit zain, told Arab News. “The focus for our customers currently is to understand how to monetize 5G, how to make sure there’s an industrial application of 5G in Saudi Arabia.”

Bajda also said they are looking at introducing 5G to different sectors in the Kingdom such as mining, and oil and gas. “We have engagements with different industries in trying to prototype together, and see if there’s something relevant for Saudi Arabia, and for our customers like the Saudi Telecom Company to pick up and do a full implementation,” he added. 

What to expect at GITEX this year 

This year’s GITEX, which has the theme “Synergizing the Mind and Technology Economy,” will highlight the region’s 5G adoption, as well as other futuristic concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and immersive technology.

LohMirmand said the dwelling time for GITEX visitors has increased over the years, owing to the gathering’s massive content offering.

“We are measuring more in terms of dwelling time. You can have 100,000 people come one day and do, but now the trend for us is we’re seeing them staying longer. Because there’s so much content, there’s so much knowledge, and so many companies with new technology, dwelling time is much longer, averaging 3.5 to 4 days,” she explained.

“Visitors and exhibitors are having deeper and more meaningful interactions at the show.”

The halls of DWTC will be divided into six sectors: 5G, AI, Future mobility, GITEX lifestyle tech, and Smart cities. It opens Oct. 6.