HYDROPONICS: THE FUTURE OF AGRIBUSINESS
What is Hydroponics Farming?
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA); which can also be described as weather and climate-proof farming, or indoor vertical farming is the production of plants in an indoor environment. While indoor farming is not a new concept (greenhouses have been around and used for centuries), the more recent innovation of hydroponic farming breaks down the growing process even further by eliminating all unnecessary components of traditional farming.
The process of photosynthesis shows the core elements to plant growth as energy, nutrients, water and CO2. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) follows this basic formula and does away with all unnecessary inputs that have become essential to our current agriculture system, such as soil and pesticides. In the CEA process, conventional elements of traditional farming are substituted with artificial ones. Rather than from the sun, plants receive energy from LED lighting that is tailored specifically to the energy needs of the plants. Instead of using soil, seeds are planted in soil-free growth medium such as coconut husk to provide the seedlings with a surface to attach their roots to. This soilless process minimizes the risk of invasion by bugs and weeds into the growth environment, ensuring a much more clean and simple process.
The vertical integration of plants allows farmers to maximize their land space, making it possible for farmers to reduce their land use by up to 90-99% while also increasing productivity. Plants growing in vertical farms are fed essential nutrients either hydroponically, in which nutrient-infused water is fed to the plant roots which sit in a growth medium, or aeroponically, in which the plant roots dangle freely and are misted with the nutrient-infused water.
Humans are now up against a myriad of new demanding issues that are leading dramatic changes to our global lifestyles: climate change, hazardous infectious diseases, lack of arable lands, depletion in fresh water quantity, increasing urbanization, and the depletion of natural resource deposits.
Hydroponics farming has strong potential to mitigate the threats these issues pose to our agricultural system. Growing crops in near optimal conditions using CEA technology is one of the biggest benefits of hydroponic farming.
Crops grown indoors and hydroponically can be grown anywhere on earth at any time of the year, regardless of weather conditions, availability of cultivable land, or soil quality.
Hydroponic farming has the potential to provide fresh, local food for areas with extreme droughts and low soil quality, such as in sub-Saharan Africa where access to leafy green vegetables is often limited.
Keeping crop production in a controlled environment enables trained scientists and advanced Climate control technologists to optimize the inputs of water, nutrients, and light fed to the plants. For example, sensors can measure the amount and nutrient content of the water that each plant transvaporate. This gives farmers insight into the amount of unused water and nutrients by the plants at each stage of the growth process and from this, the farmers are able to ensure the maximum amount and highest quality of yields by optimizing the timing, quality, and amount of inputs to the plants. This technology, along with design features such as precise irrigation methods, helps CEA farmers reduce water waste exponentially.
Compared to traditional farms, hydroponic farms use up to 90% less water. Light inputs are also optimized to ensure maximal absorption by the plants and maximal yield outputs.
Another benefit of the secure indoor growing environment is the protection it provides the plants against harmful pests and microbial diseases.
Traditional agriculture makes use of intense applications of herbicides and pesticides to shield crops from natural threats, though these chemicals have become under increasing scrutiny for the adverse effects they pose to humans and surrounding ecosystems. Pesticides often contaminate surface water, are toxic to many non-targeted insects, animals and plants, can eliminate positive and healthy soil microbes, and have been linked to breast cancer in humans. In the United States, more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used annually, 90% of which is used by the agriculture industry. The faster we can cut down on the amount of pesticides contaminating our food and environment, the better off our health and world will be. Pesticides have failed to make our agriculture industry completely resilient against invasive species.
Hydroponics Farming has indeed come to stay and also to show itself as the worthy alternative.