Hydroponics is a modern type of horticulture or plant cultivation that does not require the use of the earth. Crops are grown on the water in this method, which is rich in critical micro and macronutrients. Plants cultivated hydroponically grow quicker and healthier than plants grown in soil, according to research, since nutrients are delivered directly to their roots through water in the form of an aqueous solvent, rather than through soil.
Francis Bacon mentioned hydroponics for the first time in his work, “A Natural History,” published in 1627. Following the discovery of hydroponics, research on the technique advanced quickly. NASA has been experimenting with hydroponics for growing plants on long-term space missions in recent years. The program is known as the “Controlled Ecological Life Support System” (CELSS), and it could save astronauts’ lives on long-term space journeys. In 2007, an Arizona-based company sold 200 million pounds of hydroponically farmed tomatoes. Hundreds of acres of hydroponic farms, including hydroponic greenhouses, are currently being developed in Canada. So far, they’ve had success cultivating peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Farmers in Punjab, India, were given contracts to grow potatoes, mostly utilizing the technique.
Benefits of Hydroponics
The benefits of global adaptability are the driving force behind its growing adoption. For example, compared to traditional farms, the technology involves less labor and produces significantly higher yields. It’s also possible to have many crop cycles in the same season. Hydroponics uses comparatively less water, that is, 20% of the water used in the conventional cropping methods.
One of the key positives of hydroponics is that it can be applied in a fairly limited space. Furthermore, because the ambient temperature is manually controlled, these plants are not affected by the weather outside. In a country like India, where agriculture is heavily reliant on the monsoon, this is a boon. There is a multitude of benefits for the farmers who can grow crops out of season, and provide greater food and nutrition choices to the consumer.
Because this method is not limited by surface area, it is done by stacking plants vertically. Also, products such as exotic herbs and condiments make this method practical and profitable. This method is even more lucrative in the era of organic farming and a generation moving towards fitness. Methods such as these make farming an economically beneficial profession and serve as an incentive to not just existing farmers, but upcoming entrepreneurs.
The cultivator will not only benefit from an increase in yields but will also be able to tailor nutrient content plant-wise, thus controlling the amount of produce per crop. In this method the nutrients are diverted to the shoot and not the root, enabling a better quality of produce. Given that the roots are not going to take up much space, one can produce more crops in a given surface area than on-farm cultivation. Also, given that the crops are produced indoors, there is little vulnerability to pest attack.
This is especially significant given that we have frequent locust attacks along the west coast of India. Lastly, seeds do not have to push through mechanically across the soil. This facilitates less maturation and crop growth time.
Hydroponics cost per acre
While this technology has promise and is gaining traction, the initial cost of setting up a hydroponic farm is way higher than traditional farming. One needs access to a building-like structure at least to regulate the environment and grow the plants, along with food-grade plastic-made trays and tubes.
The cost of this infrastructure is typically Rs. 50,000 and above per 1,000 sq. ft. High costs are also involved in the plumbing system and automation such as sensors, controllers, water pumps, lighting, etc. There are additional requirements as well, such as money paid to consultants, costs involved in maintaining ambient temperature, purifying water, developing manmade plant nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, calcium nitrate, phosphorus, and other micronutrients like manganese, zinc, etc.
While small plants like herbs are easily cultivable, heavy fruition plants require elaborate and additional support. This is especially important because hydroponic crops do not have strong roots and cannot be self-sustaining. Another key issue is the lack of education and awareness among the farming community on all these issues and technological advancements.
The knowledge must be technical to the point of micro-managing temperature and humidity. A single fault in maintaining the ambient temperature can lead to major crop losses. A lot of farmers are not even aware of hydroponics, leave alone their execution. The phenomenon is especially apparent when we see that this technology is flourishing mainly in the start-up sector of the young, urban Indian.
India still imports the majority of its exotic fruits and vegetables. While the central government is promoting subsidies for hydroponics, we have a long way to go before this technology gains widespread acceptance.