One of the newest farming crazes is hydroponics. Hydroponic crops are plants that are gown in a nutrient- rich liquid solution, rather than in soil or other artificial plant bases. While some greenhouse crop farmers will use media like wood fibers, clay pellets, peat, or even polystyrene packing peanuts, hydroponic farmers use something a little cleaner and more Eco-friendly: Water.
With people taking a turn for more health- conscious lifestyles, the demand for locally produced crops has grown considerably over the past decade. Hydroponic farms are one way that farmers are now making sure they can meet that demand year- round. If you are considering hydroponic farming, you are likely wondering what the risks and benefits of this method entail. Below, we will list both the advantages and disadvantages of hydroponic crop production.
What are the advantages of hydroponic gardening:
1 – The water used to grow hydroponic crops is reusable. As the water flows through the hydroponic bed, it will eventually come to a stopping point. Many hydroponic farmers collect the water at the end of the cycle, filter it, and push it back through. This is a great way of conserving a precious natural resource and also keeping the cost of growing the crops down to a minimum. This is a major bonus to those who are concerned about the environmental impact of farming in general.
2 – Even without the filtration system mentioned, hydroponic farming uses about twenty times less water than crops grown in soil or another substrate. Because the water hits the plants directly and does not first have to be absorbed by the ground around it, it takes less water to provide direct hydration to the plant. This is another way that hydroponic farming is both ethical and economical.
3 – Because you will be growing your crops in water, you will be able to skip the hassle of testing the soil before you plant. Soil testing is a valuable first step to more traditional means of crop farming. It is also time consuming and expensive. The nutrients found in soil that are sometimes known to “burn” crops do not exist in water.
4 – Hydroponic crops are grown in a sterile environment. Therefore, they do not require pesticides. Worms, bugs, birds, and other animals that often create crop damage do not exist within a properly clean hydroponic set up. When you do not have to worry about pest control, you can keep your crops chemical- free, which will make them healthier and more appealing to your customers.
5 – You can avoid the hassle of mulching, tilling, and weeding your crops. Vegetative pests also do not exist within the hydroponics setup. Traditional farmers spend a lot of time and money every year stopping invasive species of plants from “choking out” their crops. In the world of hydroponics, this is not a relevant concern. If properly set up, the only plants that will grown in a hydroponic environment are the ones you put there.
6 – Hydroponic plants can grown anywhere and at any time. This means that, in climates where the weather turns cold, the gardening does not have to stop. Many people in the upper Midwest of the United States enjoy growing hydroponic gardens because their crops stay fresh and bountiful throughout the year, even when outside temps reach below freezing. If you are looking to produce crops for sale, a hydroponic garden may keep you in business all year- round.
7 – Hydroponic harvesting is easy. Gone are the days of having to stand in a field, swatting mosquitoes, and picking fruit or vegetables. With a hydroponic garden, the crops are all gathered in one place, easily within your reach. This makes hydroponic gardening a great method for the elderly, disabled, and anyone else who may struggle with more traditional methods of crop harvesting.
8 – You can grow a hydroponic garden in your own home. It can be a great DIY project and it’s inexpensive to setup. There are Hydroponic Grower Kits available if you just want to get started right away.
Disadvantages of using hydroponics:
1 – There is a limited production to hydroponics. While you can grow year-round (and this may make up the difference) you are limited by the space you have available. A hydroponic plant cannot thrive if it is overcrowded. Where, in more traditional farming methods, plants can be grown right next to each other, a hydroponic plant needs room to spread out. This means the number of crops that can be grown at one time is much lower than those grown in a field.
2 – You must monitor a hydroponic garden almost constantly. Keeping the delicate balance of a hydroponic garden in check can be stressful for some, and most hydroponic farmers will have unsuccessful crops their first few tries until they get their own personal methods in check. Be ready to learn by trial and error. This is not an easy task to undertake, even though the benefits are ultimately great.
3 – Because the water is filtered and cycled throughout the entire hydroponics system, if even one disease takes hold, it can kill an entire crop in a matter of hours. If you notice a diseased plant in your hydroponics crop, chances are the rest of your crop is no good, either. Many hydroponics farmers lose entire crops this way, making disease control an ever- important part of the hydroponics farming routine.
4 – Another risk of hydroponics farming is the danger of water- based microorganisms. Bacteria and fungi grow in water. While some bacteria and fungi are good for crops, there are others which can be dangerous. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to ward one away without the other. The sterility of hydroponics farming is only as good as the sterilization method of the farmer. Keeping your crops free from bad microorganisms and safe to eat can be a full time job in itself.
5 – Hydroponic farms are vulnerable to power outages. Because most have water and light set on timers, if the power goes out, and stays out longer than the backup generator can run, then the entire crop is at risk of being destroyed. Most hydroponics farmers choose to have several long-lasting back up generators on hand, just in case of an emergency.
6 – Hydroponic farms are not cheap to set up. The equipment alone that is required to run the daily operation of timed watering and light, as well as the filtration system and tanks involved can cost tens of thousands of dollars- sometimes even hundreds! If you are serious about starting a commercial hydroponic operation, you might also find that they are difficult to insure in some places, because so much is still unknown about the risk involved in growing and operating these farms.
As you can now see, hydroponic farming has many great benefits, and many concerning disadvantages. If you still feel that hydroponic farming is something you might be interested in, there are many great resources online that can help you get started. You could also make a call to your local department of agriculture to find out what your local requirements for farm operation are, as well as any local risks for common diseases, fungi, or bacteria.