The concept of hydroponic farming is not a new idea. Its variation was used back in ancient times to build hanger gardens like those of Babylon. Its popularity is growing in the world and is attracting more farmers.
The scientific basis of hydroponics is to produce more food using fewer resources.
Table of Contents
What is Hydroponic Farming?
The fundamental idea backing hydroponic farming is that water is used as a substitute for soil. It is an aspect of gardening and hydroculture, a method for growing plants that do not require soil. It makes use of mineral nutrient solutions in a water-based solvent.
Various nutrient solutions are added to the water for easy access to nutrients, resulting in a healthy yield. The nutrient solutions added to the water include phosphorus, calcium, nitrogen, potassium, and others, depending majorly on the plant requirements that are being grown.
It is a soil-free and water-based agricultural practice and could run in a small space, like the balcony. Instead of using soil for food for plants, the crops are provided with nutrient-rich water, which removes a lot of the pitfalls of soil-based practices.
It conserves water by cultivating pesticide-free crops on terraces and rooftops and is growing in popularity with urban farmers. According to the market research report, the market for hydroponics in India will grow with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 percent between 2020 to 2027.
Vertical hydroponics are frequently considered to be a green alternative to traditional farming. It requires 95 percent less water. However, the intensive use of energy for indoor lighting hinders the reduction of carbon emissions generated by agriculture.
Hydroponic Farming – The Future of Agriculture
The market share of hydroponic crops is expected to continue to grow. With the rapid growth of population, demand for food is also increasing, and traditional farming practices have failed to meet this increasing demand. With time, as that same soil is used for growing crops, repeatedly and again, it makes it infertile. Logistics and climatic problems are also significant causes of destruction to agricultural produce.
Hydroponic Farming Industry
Hydroponics is emerging as the fastest-growing method for food production.
It reduces our dependence on nature!
What happens if the climatic conditions or the natural environment is not suitable for the particular plant to the soil of the region is not fertile enough for the specific plant.
Hydroponics is the answer to all such complications.
Since hydroponics agriculture offers artificial nutrients, the impact of climate and the region is not significant. Since global warming has made the climatic conditions more unpredictable, hydroponics farming is the solution for farmers around the globe.
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It can feed a large population!
With the rapid expansion of the world population, the food demand is also rising. The traditional farming practices have not been able to fulfill these rising demands of expanding population. Since the same soil is used every time for growing crops, again and again, it becomes infertile. Other than this, logistical and climatic issues also cause massive destruction to agricultural produce.
Hydroponic farming eliminates all such drawbacks of traditional agriculture.
Since there is no soil involved, the possibility of becoming infertile after repeated plantation is irrelevant. Hydroponics rely very little on weather conditions and can provide plenty of food at any given time. According to the UN plant species, the hydroponics system can increase 20 to 25% over traditional agriculture and hence can meet growing food demand throughout the year.
Reduces Pests Attack!
The most challenging tasks for a farmer is to secure crops from insects and pests. It is impossible to grow a crop without effective pest management. Moreover, it doesn’t stop there. Even after employing various pest control programs, pests return and cause damage of up to 30 to 35 % of the yield of crops.
Hydroponics offers a perfect solution to this.
Hydroponic farming is done in a neutral environment, and hence the possibility of pests is considerably less. Pests do not commonly appear on the soil-based mediums that are used in hydroponics. Therefore, the amount of pests that could be a problem to hydroponics is lower than those that affect the soil. The absence of pests results in the higher quality and yield of crops.
It Conserves Water!
Soil water levels are continuously depleting, and accessibility to drinking water has become a significant problem worldwide. Unfortunately, agriculture uses more than 80 percent of the surface water. It is high time for us to change our farming practices to be water-efficient as well.
Thanks to hydroponics, there is a ray of hope.
In hydroponics farming, nutrients are provided to plants through the water. The clay-based medium can hold moisture to a great extent. Thus, water requirement decreases logically. Furthermore, the closed system ensures minimal to no loss of water. The water used for Hydroponics cultivation can be used again, resulting in minimal water wastage.
It is Space-efficient!
In traditional farming, the farmers require ample space for crop cultivation because the plants should not be close to one another. The roots of plants need room to spread far to soak up moisture and nutrients from the soil. In a world that is becoming suffocated due to the absence of space, traditional farming faces problems.
Here comes hydroponics!
Hydroponics doesn’t need to extend their roots since they can get everything they require within their place. In a hydroponics system, the plants can grow in a smaller area. According to the UN, the Hydroponics farming system boosts crop yields by 2 to 5 percent.
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Benefits of Hydroponic Farming
There are numerous benefits for the hydroponic garden that will make it the primary source of fruit and vegetables in the coming years.
1. Maximizes Space
Hydroponics needs less space than the plants that are cultivated in soil. Depending on the techniques, hydroponics coupled with vertical farming methods use up to 99 percent less area than conventional farming methods.
The main reason behind the tiny footprints of hydroponics is that the plant roots don’t have to be spread across the landscape searching for moisture and nutrients. The system ensures direct delivery of water and nutrients to the plant roots, either regularly or at intervals, depending on the technique being employed.
So the plant’s root system uses less space, which allows growing more plants within a smaller area. When you combine vertical stacking techniques, you will observe how a smaller space can create a fantastic hydroponic garden!
2. Conserves Water
You might find it odd, but the plants that grow in water actually consume less water than similar plants in soil. Hydroponic plants can thrive using up to more than 98 percent more water than other traditional cultivation methods.
We all know the significance of water conservation. Conserving water will be much more significant in the coming years, which will make irrigation more challenging.
Studies show that the plant utilizes just 0.1 percent of water absorbed by the plant’s roots. The majority of it is released into the air via evapotranspiration. Since hydroponics systems use recirculated water, it allows plants to take in what they require and release the unused water back into the system.
Since the food requirement is increasing year after year, water use in agriculture is also rising more than ever before. So, to conserve water, hydroponics may play a significant role.
3. Facilitates Micro-Climate
Hydroponic gardens are placed inside an indoor hydroponic greenhouse. Here they create their micro-climates and hence are protected from the challenges traditional farmers usually try to resolve. They don’t require wide use insecticides. Regardless of the climate or weather outside, plants are grown year-round in temperature-controlled facilities. The artificial grow lights provide the necessary amount of sunshine.
4. Produces Higher Yields
The ideal conditions for plants ensure that they receive the correct quantity of required nutrients directly from the roots. Furthermore, microclimates permit all-year-round growth and the shorter cycle of various crops. This all results in much more yields than traditional farming techniques.
5. Require Less Labor
With no need for weeding, tillage, herbicide, and insecticide applications that require lots of agricultural labor, hydroponics provides a less burdensome workload and can be easily controlled with fewer person-hours. It reduces the costs associated with growing crops and also offers free time to pursue other activities. A part-time worker can easily manage a small hydroponically cultivated greenhouse.
6. Needs No Soil
The world is losing productive soil. It is estimated that 50% of the topsoil in the world has been lost over the last 150 years. The reason is erosion, compaction loss, soil structure loss, and nutrient degradation and salinity.
There is a vast variation in the soil’s quality from one place to another. Certain plants have strong preferences for specific soil types. It limits traditional farmers to plant only those crops that perform well with the soil conditions in their region. The soil isn’t an issue with hydroponic farming, and you can cultivate any crop without worrying about soil.
7. Produces High-Quality Food
In traditional agriculture, the soil and climatic conditions limit the production of fruits and vegetables all year round.
Moreover, the crop is left to mature in the warehouses and throughout the supply chain of supply. In some instances, ethylene gas is also used in artificially aged foods.
Since hydroponic gardens create their microbiomes, the crops can be grown almost everywhere. They can also be harvested right at the peak of ripeness and are readily available to nearby restaurants and homes for consumption.
8. Reduces Supply Chain
Traditional commercial farming demands plenty of energy and water consumption to cultivate crops and increase output. The crops are harvested and transported over long distances using fuel-burning refrigerated vehicles. In addition to that, they’re usually preserved using chemical substances that prolong the shelf-life of the produce.
Hydroponics offers benefits of local cultivation beyond the ripening process. Moreover, it reduces energy consumption and meets consumer needs without wasteful use of transport and questionable preservation methods. It offers a streamlined food chain that ensures high-quality products grown in local areas and supplied fresh!
9. Predictability and Seasonality of Agricultural Produce
The seasonality of the agricultural produce is a big problem for the traditional commercial farming methods. You must have purchased cheap, fresh, and delicious strawberries in the middle of summer. But if you buy them during the winter months, you may pay as high as three times that too don’t taste much as they do.
Other than this, farmers also have to deal with unforeseen weather issues that could wipe out their whole crop in just a few days. Natural calamities like drought, fire, floods as well as pest-related issues can occur at any time. Such major disasters have an impact on all food chains.
Whereas in a hydroponic greenhouse, all the climatic conditions are managed by the cultivator. You can grow strawberries and harvest them during the winter months when it is cold and dark. The greenhouse makes it easier to safeguard plants from being damaged from pest attacks.
10. Crops Grow Faster
In traditional farming, most vegetables and fruits take more time to mature. The plants receive the required nutrients from the soil, which is a prolonged process. Most of the nutrients they take in are usually discarded during the process of maturing.
It has been noticed that the growth rate of hydroponics is 30 to 50 percent more than that of plants grown in the soil. When you grow hydroponics plants, it is easier to make nutrients accessible for plants to absorb. The grower can control lighting as well as heat, nutrients, pests, and other factors responsible for the growth process. Hence, you can optimize the entire process for bigger and faster-growing plants that will yield more.
Disadvantages of Hydroponic Farming
- It requires a significant investment for energy input as well as a labor input. Energy costs can be high and include heating, cooling, and electricity to run equipment (injectors, computers, sorting/packing/storage equipment, etc.).
- The farmer requires the highest level of proficiency in plant science, engineering, and computer control systems and marketing. Otherwise, you will need to employ experts in these fields. It is a very intensive type of agriculture in which a minor issue could become the size of a catastrophe very quickly.
- Pests and diseases of hydroponics are more challenging to manage. Root pathogens that release water-born spores (e.g., Zoospores of Pythium) could cause severe damage to plants in a recirculating environment since the infected solution can circulate throughout the plant.
- Hydroponics technology is suited only to plants with high economic value. The initial cost for the construction of a commercial hydroponic plant is high. It will not be financially viable to cultivate crops other than those of high value, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, herbs, lettuce that can be grown in a greenhouse and produce several crops per year.
- Moreover, the controlled environment of the greenhouse offers an ideal habitat for all kinds of insects, both beneficial and non-beneficial, like aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and thrips. Along with IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and biological pest control, plants need regular monitoring and swift action.
- Generator backup is required in the event of power failures.
Let us now review the plant needs that are critical to building hydroponic systems:
- Water is essential for the metabolic process, transportation of substances throughout the body of plants (phloem and the xylem), as well as for transpirational cooling.
- Light is essential for photosynthesis.
- It requires inorganic mineral nutrients with the proper concentrations (EC) and at the correct pH.
- Carbon dioxide is crucial for photosynthesis.
- Oxygen is crucial for the process of respiration, needed by all the parts of the plant, which includes the roots, so aeration of the solution of nutrients could be necessary.
- The right temperature and the appropriate the relative humidity (specific to the kind of plants).
- Support systems for plants’ shoot and roots. Mechanical support is required in hydroponics farming; the roots directly hang in the solution of nutrients and don’t provide any support to the plant.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
Types of hydroponic systems classified by the location of the roots:
The roots are dispersed in the nutrient solution that could be in the form of a mist or liquid.
These roots are cultivated in inert media such as gravel, sand, Rockwool, peat moss, vermiculite coconut coir, foam, etc., and then are irrigated using the nutrient solution.
Types of hydroponic systems classified by what happens to the water nutrients solution:
The nutrient solution gets supplied from a reservoir to plants and is later drained out and is not used again.
The nutrient solution is supplied from a reservoir. After it has passed over the root zones, it is collected and used again.
In large systems, the nutrient solution is examined and then modified as needed by adding water, acid or base, or other inorganic elements to restore the nutrient solution to the required mineral formation and pH. Mineral solution sterilization, with UV light or ozone treatment, etc., is essential to ensure that pathogens from one or a few plants aren’t propagated to all other plants.
Hydroponic System Design
The Basic Wick
The roots of the plants grow down through the aggregate medium. Wick, an absorbent, is laced into the medium and hangs into a reservoir. It pulls the nutrient solution up to the roots zone and is ideal for small-scale plants.
Type of system: Aggregate/Closed
Plant roots hang down into the reservoir of nutrient solutions, with the top part of the root mass being suspended in air and the air roots absorb oxygen. The lower portion of the mass is in direct contact with nutrients solution (water and the nutrient roots). Any crop can be cultivated using this technique.
Type of system: Liquid/Closed
Options available: Aggregate/Closed
The Raft or Floating system
Here the hydroponics plants are suspended using Styrofoam boards that float over the surface of water nutrient solution. The required oxygen is supplied to the roots using an aquarium pump, venturi system, or air stones. If the large Styrofoam cups are filled with perlite or any other medium, they are placed so that the cup is out from the water, then no pump is required. It is best for herbs, lettuce, and many other plants.
Type of system: Liquid/Closed.
A Flood-and-drain System
Here the roots grow into an aggregate, and the nutrients solution is pumped into the medium. It floods the roots for a short time and is allowed to drain to the reservoir. It is ideal for herbs, lettuce, or other vegetables.
Type of system: Aggregate/Closed
Top Feeder System
Here, the roots grow down into an aggregate, and the nutrition solution is pumped up towards the upper part of the aggregate medium, where it flows through. It either goes to the drain or is recirculated back into the reservoir. All most all types of crops can be grown using a top feeder system.
Type of system: Aggregate/Closed or Open
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The roots grow out of Rockwool blocks and through cups filled with an aggregate, which will eventually hang from slanted tubes. The nutrient solution is pushed up to the upper end and then flows over the roots hanging above and returns to the reservoir. It is best to grow lettuce, herbs, etc.
Type of system: Liquid-Aggregate/Closed
Here the roots remain suspended within an enclosed area and are sprayed with nutrient solution at regular intervals. It is ideal for root crops and many other crops also.
Type of system: Liquid/Closed or Open
Importance of consistent power supply in Hydroponic farming
To have a reliable power supply for the equipment that requires electricity to operate air or water pumps. If power is cut off, particularly to the NFT or the flood-and-drain system or aeroponic systems, the plant roots may dry up and cause the plants to die due to the lack of water.
For the top drip systems, there’s a storage of moisture in the bags. However, the plants will start to lose their vigor rapidly (1-2 hours), particularly during a hot day (possibly for 30 mins).
How to Get Subsidy For Hydroponics?
State governments and central government offer subsidy on the capital costs os hydroponics. Each state has its own subsidy structure. Like Maharashtra government offer 50% subsidy to farmers who want to set up a hydroponic farm.
National Horticulture Board (NHB) offers subsidy for each state. To find the information of the respective states, the farmer must go to NHB official website to search for subsidies.
The term aquaponics originates from the two words – aquaculture (the growing of fish) and Hydroponics (the growing of plants in water).
Aquaponics is a combination of three organisms that form an organic production system. It incorporates a freshwater aquatic animal, usually Tilapia fish, that eats food and creates waste, including ammonia. Two kinds of bacteria, housed in bio-reactors, convert the ammonia to Nitrite and then Nitrate. This Nitrate, as well as other nutrients, are absorbed by plants that cleanse the water. Then, it is transferred to the fish.
Aquaponic systems are available in different sizes, varying from small indoor units to huge commercial units. Moreover, they can be either freshwater or brackish water system.
For more details on Aquaponics, Click here!
The Bottom Line
Hydroponics farming is highly eco-friendly. As an agriculturalist, it’s high time to look into Hydroponics as an alternative to your inefficient, traditional farming system.
Contact us today to learn more about recent Hydroponics technology and apply this innovative method to your own home!
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