Dutch appetite for dairy fuels remarkable growth

A voracious thirst for dairy and a new take on the old tradition of conquering the ocean continue to shape strategies in the Netherlands where rising sea levels are a concern for food production.

It is one of life’s great paradoxes that one of the world’s smallest nations produces its tallest people. But the Netherlands is fascinating in almost every respect - a curious mix of canals, windmills, dykes and dunes in a country where more than one third of its land actually lies below sea level. 

Of the many perplexing sights on offer, a stroll down to the port in Rotterdam offers yet another. One that might leave you scratching your head for a few moments wondering if you’ve had one drink too many. There, moored up in a ‘murky’ marina, sits another pioneering venture from the Dutch: an offshore farm. 

Installed back in 2018, the farm was the first of its kind in a city port when built in a channel of Rotterdam's Merwehaven harbour. Conceived by the Dutch property company, Beladon, the ‘floating farm’ of three levels perhaps offers us all a glimpse into the potential of such dairy operations.

There, 32 Meuse-Rhine-Issei cows dine on a platter of hay, potato scraps, grass from local parks and commercial food waste before being milked by robots.

The idea was to aid the city in moving towards a more sustainable future whereby cows ‘upcycle’ biomass residue on a platform geared at reducing the nation’s ‘carbon hoofprint’.

As Gavin Haines notes for the BBC, the project is a continuation of two longstanding Dutch traditions which between them have not only helped shape the country, but also its people, ‘whose appetite for dairy has fuelled their remarkable growth’.

Indeed, at 182.5cm, the average Dutch man has grown more than 20cm in just 160 years and while environmental factors may have played their part, studies point towards a ‘voracious appetite’ for dairy having influenced growth.

That jump, argues Professor Louise Barrett of the University of Lethbridge, is ‘too fast’ for it just to be genetics. 

“Calcium builds bone and growth is dependent on having a good supply of that,” she asserts.

As the Dutch continue to churn out cheeses like Edam and Gouda that doesn’t look like changing and while they remain among the biggest consumers of milk worldwide, the ‘floating farm’ represents a new take on the old tradition of conquering the ocean, whilst offering an interesting approach to dairy strategies within urban environments. 

But with the world’s population expected to grow by two to three billion by 2050, the team at Floating Farm believes it could help solve another pressing problem in areas where rising sea levels are a concern for food production.

For, as the world population continues to increase, the available area of fertile agricultural land does not, explains a spokesperson in conversation with Dezeen.

In fact, fertile land is also becoming increasingly scarce," he says. "Climate change shows that there is increasingly heavy rainfall and flooding of cities and farmland. So we will have to look at a climate adaptive system to continue feeding the city."


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