Our planet will be facing an inevitable food supply issue in the coming decades as the global population continues to grow at an astronomical rate.
There’s also increasing concern for the health of our planet, which is being destroyed by the industrialized farming industry.
These facts alone make hydroponics more than just a trend. It’s one of the most promising emerging technologies of our lifetime.
In this article, we’re going to explore the pros and cons of hydroponics and why it may be a viable solution to many of our planet’s food supply and environmental issues.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a system for growing plants without soil. Instead, plants are grown in a hydroponic growing medium, such as perlite, clay balls, gravel, or foam.
This growing medium provides something for the roots to grip. The roots and growing medium are submerged in water and liquid nutrients.
Hydroponics systems can be placed outdoors, in a greenhouse, or indoors with artificial grow lights. In urban areas, an indoor vertical farm can produce large amounts of fresh, locally grown food utilizing hydroponics, even when there’s no viable farmland available.
Types of Hydroponics Systems
Indoor Vertical Farming
In an indoor vertical hydroponic farm, the plants are grown on shelves or towers from floor to ceiling, and a liquid nutrient solution is pumped to the plants.
Artificial LED grows lights mimic the sun and can be tailored to meet the needs of individual plants at every stage of growth.
Since the plants are grown indoors, there’s minimal pest pressure, no environmental pressure, no weeds to pull, and no chemical runoff entering our water supply.
Indoor vertical farming systems can be adapted to grow various food crops, but they’re especially popular for fast-growing herbs and salad greens.
Aquaponics is a variation of hydroponics that combines plants and fish. Its eco-system where the farmer feeds the fish, the fish feed the plants, and the plants clean the water.
The farmer can harvest fresh produce as well as fish with minimal labour, space, and input.
Deep Water Culture
In a deep-water culture hydroponics system, the plants are suspended above a hydroponic fertilizer mixed with water on a floating raft.
Air is supplied to the plants’ roots with some sort of air stone, and the plants are usually grown in net pots to keep them in place.
This system is fantastic for growing plants with large root systems, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.
Would vertical farming replace traditional farming in the near future? Watch this video to find out
The Pros of Growing with Hydroponics
Grow Fresh Produce Any Time of Year
Most of the out-of-season produce at your local grocery store is trucked in from some other country. And while that may sound like a great idea at first glance, it has a tremendous environmental and commercial impact.
Those strawberries from Argentina had to be flown to our country and then delivered by truck to your local grocery store. They’ve probably seen more of the world than you have, making them more expensive to purchase and giving them a tremendous carbon footprint.
Hydroponics allows farmers to grow food all year long in any climate. That means you can be eating local, hydroponically grown strawberries in the middle of winter. They’ll be cheaper to purchase and much better for the environment, too.
Grow More Food Faster and Use Less Space
Since water and nutrients are delivered right to the plants’ roots, they don’t need the vast root systems plants grown in soil require. That means they can put more energy into growing leafy greens and delicious fruits and vegetables.
And with the ideal lighting for indoor plants, crops grow more quickly, but they can also be grown in a lot less space because they don’t have to compete with other plants for light or nutrients.
Vertical hydroponic gardening towers or shelves allow the plants to be grown from floor to ceiling, significantly reducing the amount of floor space required to grow the same amount of food.
With hydroponics, you can grow up to five times more food in the same amount of space that would be required for traditional in-ground growing methods.
As our world population continues to grow, arable farmland is becoming more scarce. Using hydroponics to grow more food in a small footprint solves not only that problem but also eliminates the need to destroy our forests and other animal habitats to grow food.
All it takes is one look at a country like Brazil, where rainforests are being destroyed to grow food, to realize the value of hydroponics for the future of farming.
Less Water Usage
At first glance, it may seem like hydroponics would require tremendous amounts of water, but that’s not the case at all. It’s much more water-efficient than traditional farming, where the water runs off and evaporates in huge quantities.
Hydroponic systems only lose a tiny amount of water to evaporation. And the water is recycled over and over again, rather than just being delivered to the plants once.
Water usage is limited to what the plants require to grow, which means none of the waste occurs with traditional farming.
In regions like Africa, the Middle East, and Australia, where water is at a premium, the advantages of growing food with minimal water input can’t be overstated.
And since the water in a hydroponics system is recycled, there’s no risk of runoff polluting the local water supply.
Better Management of Pests and Disease
Since hydroponics allows you to grow food indoors in a controlled environment, pests and diseases are significantly reduced. And they can be controlled with things like filtered ventilation instead of chemical inputs.
The use of AI in hydroponic farming allows farmers to quickly detect and remove pests and diseases, minimizing potential damage even further.
In many cases, disease in a hydroponic system will occur in one individual unit, so it can be removed from the system and cleaned before any other plants are infected.
The Challenges of Hydroponic Growing
Hydroponics sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? However, some challenges will have to be overcome to make it a viable solution in the future.
First, setting up an indoor hydroponic farm can be expensive. The setup costs are a significant investment. And some countries, like Japan and Britain, don’t even have space for large warehouses to house vertical hydroponic farms.
To make hydroponics a viable solution for the future, local governments will need to collaborate. with farmers to finance hydropic farms in their area. Getting governments on board with this idea is the biggest challenge that will need to be overcome.
On top of that, hydroponics isn’t a suitable growing method for certain crops, such as grains and root vegetables like potatoes. Consumers will have to be willing to move away from these foods favouring more suitable crops for hydroponic growing.
The Bottom Line: Hydroponic Produce is the Future of Farming
The advantages of hydroponic farming far outweigh the disadvantages. As technology in this field continues to advance, hydroponics equipment will become more and more affordable, making it accessible to everyone.
Like most new things, the most significant hurdle of hydroponics will be getting farmers, consumers, and local governments to look at hydroponic growing methods with an open mind.