With thousands of years of history behind the use of traditional soil-based, it might be surprising that anyone bothered to develop a method of growing crops in water instead. However, there are many challenges that can make productive or profitable agriculture difficult in some areas. Hydroponics solve a lot of these issues with only a handful of minor disadvantages of its own. Like other methods of hydroculture, hydroponics allow for agriculture and fresh food production in areas where other agriculture fails. Explore some of the most important potential benefits of building a hydroponics growing system to decide if it’s the right method for you.
Reduced Water Use
The exact amount of water used by a hydroponics system varies depending on the method used for its design. Some systems discharge water after a single use and therefore use a large percentage of what’s required for traditional irrigation. Recirculating systems are much more efficient. Depending on the particular method used, water use for hydroponics can drop to just 1/4th to 1/10th of the volume used for soil-based crops. Since the roots directly access the water and nutrients needed without having to compete with any weeds or poor soil conditions, it’s easy to use these techniques in dry areas with limited water supplies.
Production from Non-Arable Land
There’s a limited amount of high quality arable land available for food production around the world. In some areas, demand for fresh food outstrips the ability of the soil to provide growth. Hydroponics are a way to expand growing options throughout the world anywhere a steady supply of clean water is available. Even if the water supply is too small to support other types of agriculture, there are ways to expand its use with hydroponics. Land that has been contaminated with chemical runoff or high levels of lead can easily support safe hydroponics production with none of the remediation or safety risks that come with in-ground growing.
Outdoor and Indoor Use
In addition to making use of non-arable land with high salinity or heavy metal levels, hydroponics also work well indoors. With the use of lights, there’s no need for exposure to natural light at all. Warehouses and even mine shafts can be transformed into useful growing space with the use of water-based growing methods. By bringing the process of agriculture indoors, growers can produce food in urban areas and reduce transportation costs and quality loss. Unused space can be turned into farms without having to go through a long process of demolition and soil reconditioning. Yet hydroponics also work well outdoors when growers want to take advantage of natural light and don’t mind dealing with pests and weather conditions.
Optimal Nutrient Levels
Early hydroponics techniques lacked the precise measuring technology to track and adjust water quality levels. Plants often received too many or too few nutrients, resulting in uneven and stalled growth. Modern systems make it easy to control and measure the exact amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and trace elements in the water supply. Auto-mixers and timer-powered pumps ensure plant roots can always access the moisture and nutrients they need at perfectly balanced levels. Valuable mineral-based fertilizers are used at just the right amounts, reducing expensive waste while preventing damage from overexposure.
Faster Growth and Larger Harvests
Not all crops grow better in hydroponics systems, but many do produce larger and faster harvests thanks to the constant control over nutrient and water levels. Unexpected rainfall can leave soil wet for days when crop roots need dry conditions. In the hydroponics system, you simply reduce the amount of water or nutrients to give your plants the exact conditions they want for productive fruiting or flowering. Leaf crops are particularly fast growing in water-based systems. Many microgreens and salad suppliers find hydroponics much more reliable for a profitable business thanks to the steady and fast growth rate. Lettuce and similar plants are easily stunted by weather that is either too hot or too cold, so bringing cultivation indoors allows for production year round in every part of the world.
Fewer Diseases and Pests
Removing soil from the process of growing plants creates a few new challenges, but it also has the major benefit of reducing disease and pest problems dramatically. With hydroponics installed indoors or in a greenhouse, opportunities for pest control increase further. It was the discovery of soil conditions leading to many plant diseases that initially triggered research into hydroculture. From aggressive fungi to tiny worms like nematodes stealing a plant’s nutrient supply, even the richest soil can harbor a lot of problems. Starting with pure and often sterilized water gives the grower a blank slate to work from, reducing the volume of contaminants entering a closed system.
Less Environmental Damage
Traditional farming methods are surprisingly damaging to the environment. Tilling may left crop roots establish quickly in the loosened soil, but it also causes valuable top soil to blow away with the wind and encourages the loss of nitrogen. Bacteria colonies responsible for helping plant roots absorb nutrients are also destroyed by tilling and related practices. By moving crops that require loose and tilled soil to hydroponics systems, deforestation and top soil loss can be reduced significantly. Soil can be reserved for perennial crops like fruit and nut trees that don’t require tilling or other soil disturbing practices. Closed loop and recycling hydroponics systems also reduce waterway contamination caused by fertilizer runoff from open fields. Since fertilizer rich water is too valuable to waste in a hydroponics technique, it’s rarely discharged into a natural waterway.
Finally, hydroponics can reduce the amount of labor required to produce a unit of a crop by anywhere from 10% to 50%. Automation allows for hands-off growing where human labor would be required to at least operate heavy equipment on a traditional farm. From controlling light levels and nutrient releases to even picking and packaging the crops with robotic arms, hydroponics offer a lot of opportunities for reducing the workload of food production. This will likely allow many more people to become profitable farmers that couldn’t handle the physical work required by other forms of market farming.
With so many benefits from a single system of agriculture, it’s no surprise that demand for hydroponic equipment is growing. In fact, demand for tanks, pipes, and other parts commonly used for these systems often outstrips local supply. Flexible and food-safe liners are available everywhere from suppliers like BTL Liners. Designing a new system around custom built tanks and trenches can save you money while allowing you to create the successful design of your dreams.