Benefits of Hydroponics
By Justin Ahn
Industrial farming is ruining the future of our global ecosystem. Large-scale, intensive farming is a threat to humans, wildlife, and the health of our earth’s soil.
Livestock operations are about 15 percent of overall GHG emissions, and industrial agriculture pollutes water sources and degrades soil from overuse. The environment is unquestionably suffering from the adverse effects of farming.
But what are we supposed to do? Global food insecurities are growing at a startling rate, and the only way to produce yields that can support our world’s ever-growing population is to operate an exhaustive and large-scale, efficient system of farming.
That is where hydroponics steps in. Hydroponics is an agricultural system, just like soil-farming, and it is nothing new. Our Babylonian friends began using a forerunner to this method thousands of years ago with the Hanging Gardens.
The system utilizes nutrient-based solutions and water to grow the plant, making it a soil-less farming method. Here are some of the perks of using hydroponics over traditional soil-based farming:
Growing a plant without soil requires a lot of water or water-based nutrient solutions. In order to combat this flaw, hydroponics uses a circulation network, in which plants are held up by a medium such as Rockwool and placed so that the roots are part of a circulating arrangement of nutrient-rich water.
The efficiency that this method contributes to plant growth can save up to 10 times more water than conventional farming techniques.
Hydroponics is highly valuable due to its flexibility. It is an extremely controlled system in which all plants are submerged in individual and specialized nutrient-rich solutions instead of the same soil, so that the conditions of each plant can be altered to its liking. This means that virtually any plant can be grown with the use of hydroponics.
Even the climate, an immutable factor of farming, does not pose a problem as hydroponic plants are grown indoors. This is a compelling reason for the U.S. government to promote and subsidize more locally-grown farms.
A distributed but networked community of locally-grown farms across America could eliminate the cost of transporting avocados from Michoacán or bananas from Ecuador. Americans could grow bananas in Greenland if they had adequate supplies and housing space.
In addition, hydroponics would allow farmers to produce crops in densely populated metropolises where open land is scarce. This change could not only cut transportation costs but also eliminate transportation-related air pollution.
Pests and Diseases
Annually, nearly 30 percent of global crop yield is destroyed due to pathogen spread and the growth of pests that prey on crops. This would be less of a problem for hydroculture systems because a large majority of pests and diseases are born and raised in soil.
Additionally, the use of herbicides is exclusive to soil-based agriculture because weeds cannot magically maneuver themselves into water; they need soil to spread.
As a result, the use of pesticides and herbicides is significantly lower in hydroponic systems. Though there may be a need to use pesticides due to water-borne diseases that can affect crops, there are no weeds or pests that need to be exterminated, meaning significantly less pesticides will be found on the finished crop–a win for both farmers and consumers.
Aquaponics is a fusion of hydroculture and aquaculture. Principally, fish cultures being grown produce feces which are filtered and presented as nutrients to the developing vegetables.
These vegetables then clean the water of feces. It is a sustainable technique that can be used year-round, also capable of providing food to entire communities, given that fish is a great source of protein.
The product is also 100 percent free of all pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics, making it a cleaner and healthier food source than traditional fishing.
SO… why are we not incorporating hydroponics into our lives right now? The main answer is money. The initial investment in commercial hydroponic systems is hefty.
Initial investors would need to buy pumps, tanks, controls for the system, lighting equipment for the plants (when the sun is not up), workers who have the technical skills to maintain the system, taxes and bills, and capital to buy the facility in the first place.
System upkeep is also a big issue in the world of hydroponics. One small error in the field and an entire batch of vegetables can be inedible to consumers. It is also vital to be mindful of the effect of water-borne diseases.
Due to the basis of hydroculture being water, diseases can spread a lot faster and do a lot more damage than in the soil. Hydroponic systems must be configured and tested regularly for them to perform effectively.
Hydroponics certainly has a future in the farming industry. The opportunities for its implementation are diverse, and the environmental growth it can harness is substantial. With some improvements, hydroponics may just be the revolutionary farming method of the 21st century.