Hydroponics is one of the soilless farming methods commonly used in vertical agriculture. But what are the reasons for starting hydroponic crop production? We asked the professor at the University of Agriculture in Krakow, dr Anna Kołton, co-creator of the first modular hydroponic system with a controlled environment in Poland.
Dr. Anna Kołton from University of Agriculture in Krakow spoke about the vital benefits of hydroponics. The main highlights are reduced water and fertilizer consumption, but Dr. Kołton also pointed out that the method is environmentally friendly. Sounds interesting already? Below you’ll learn more about the advantages of hydroponics farming.
One of the biggest advantages of hydroponics is lower water consumption than soil-based farming. Some of the hydroponic systems can save even up to 95% of water.
– It’s worth mentioning that there are several types of hydroponics. Using one with a closed-loop system is the best practice. It allows for the recovery of unused water and nutrient solution. Since farmers use less water, they can achieve more profits – says dr Anna Kołton.
However, the expert points out that this type of nutrient delivery system requires additional filters, pumps, and other equipment, which may increase farming costs. Nevertheless, with the right system choice, hydroponics is still profitable.
In most hydroponic systems, fertilizers are dosed in a controlled way. As a result, crops obtain the highest quality with the proper characteristics desired by the consumer. Another positive aspect of this method is that it reduces the risk of fertilizer spillage to the environment. The expert adds that hydroponic systems control the recycling of nutrient solutions, which decreases water waste to almost zero and reduce the risk of fertilizer spills causing soil or water pollution. It does not mean fertilization in conventional farming methods is dangerous to the environment, but insufficient skills or knowledge can lead to its uncontrolled release into natural habitats.
Hydroponic farming methods can significantly reduce or even eliminate problems of soil and root plant diseases. Nevertheless, dr Kołton emphasizes that it requires maintenance of the highest standards of cultivation.
The expert adds that it is necessary to use pesticides in case of pest infestation or diseases in field crop production. When a farmer uses them according to instructions, they won’t harm the environment. Even so, in an indoor hydroponic system, it is possible to control the cleanliness of the cultivation process and eliminate the usage of plant health products.
With hydroponics you can farm even in small spaces, thus obtaining high yields within a limited cultivation area. How is this possible? The scientist explains that hydroponic systems can be built in multiple layers, so it is possible to achieve higher food production per square meter. She also adds that a larger farming area comes with a higher land tax. Then, it can be more advantageous to produce food in a multistory system utilizing the same space as in field crop production.
Field crop production is only possible during a specific period in Central Europe. On the contrary, an indoor hydroponic system can operate all year round. However, dr Kołton emphasizes that both farming methods have advantages and disadvantages. The cost of automation and hydraulics, as well as heating crops indoors, can be high. Although, it is possible to choose parameters that ensure the profitability of the operations.
It is also worth mentioning that field farming might be cheaper during the summer but is not available during the winter months. As a result, access to fresh food becomes more limited and entails additional costs.
We can import lettuce from Spain in winter. However, logistical costs must be taken into account. Firstly, a product can lose quality during transportation. Secondly, the amount of CO2 produced during transport counts as an environmental cost – says the expert.
One of the great things about hydroponics is that you can start it practically anywhere, regardless of the space available. It can be used for both domestic uses and at an industrial scale – in greenhouses or adapted buildings.
You can create large hydroponic systems, e.g., in a 1,5 h greenhouse, but it is also possible to build small systems. With less space available farming is still possible. At this point, you can introduce the production of certain plant species virtually anywhere some space is available – says the expert.
Hydroponics, along with Controlled Environment Agriculture gives an opportunity to build a decentralized network of fresh food producers and suppliers to serve the local community and the environment.
Local production is important. We can grow plants all year round even in small rooms. There doesn’t have to be one large factory that provides fresh food for all people in the entire city, but rather smaller centers producing food for individual districts – adds the expert.
Can the quality of plants grown in hydroponic systems compare to their field-grown counterparts? We asked dr Kołton.
Well-conducted hydroponic crop production yields a product of at least the same quality as an open-field system. It can even be better because it is grown in a controlled environment. The use of greenhouses or indoor spaces makes it possible to regulate environmental factors and allows to influence the quality of the final product. This is important because we want the plant to have the right content of healthy compounds, e.g., vitamins, but also not too many unfavorable metabolites.
Due to its rational water use and decreasing risk of fertilizer spill, hydroponics is considered an eco-friendly farming method. Dr Kołton points out that many countries experience land shortages due to soil degradation and the expansion of urban areas. Vertical hydroponic systems make it possible for intensive use of the same area size for food production without negative consequences for the environment.
In the south of Poland, we don’t feel it, yet in Central Europe and southern countries such as Spain or Italy, there is a shortage of fresh water. It is important from an ecological perspective to reduce consumption of this resource while producing food. Agriculture should work in favor of our environment, not against it.
There are many different hydroponic systems available and each of them provides plants with nutrients in slightly differing ways. If you are interested in starting your own hydroponic farm, you should choose the farming method that suits your needs best.
Hydroponic farming is especially beneficial for commercial growers because plants will grow faster than those grown conventionally and produce higher yields within a smaller production area. Thanks to the lower consumption of water and fertilizers, this method may be beneficial not only for the entrepreneurs themselves but also for the natural environment.
Hydroponic systems designed by Hydropolis feature an intelligent nutrient delivery system. A closed-circuit filter system allows the reuse of resources. Crop management software determines which pH, EC, and nutrient proportions are best for a particular plant. Such growth algorithms, also known as growing recipes, are operated by the crop automation system, which enables precise dosing of nutrient solutions. That’s how users save up to 95% water, while producing high-quality produce.
Are you interested in hydroponic systems or have questions about starting your own vertical farm? Feel free to contact us via form or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Our specialists will advise you on the best solution and help you to start your own adventure with hydroponics.
Anna Kolton, Ph.D., Professor of the University of Agriculture
Professor and researcher in the Department of Botany, Physiology, and Plant Protection at the H. Kołłątaj Agricultural University in Krakow.