Railina GhoshB.Sc. Agriculture (Hons.) Student (3rd Year)
Palli Siksha Bhavana (Institute of Agriculture), Visva Bharati
Generally, when we think about farming and cultivation the mind automatically pictures flat expanses of open land pulsating with life — fresh harvest of rice, wheat, paddy or vegetables. Thick canopy of branches with birds fluttering from one bough to the other on a sun-kissed morning, away from cities’ bustle and haze of smoke, completes the idea of idyllic surroundings. But talking about urban farming, and the picture is quite different. Farms can be set up in a space as small as a cubicle-sized room fitted with a tech support system that creates an artificial environment conducive for growth. These hi-tech, sustainable farms operate on the science and principles of hydroponic farming — a soil-free farming technique.
What is hydroponic farming?
Hydroponic Farming is a farming technique that uses up to 95% less water than traditional agriculture. It does not rely on soil.
In traditional agriculture, the irrigation systems that we follow, faces much more losses of water through simple evaporation and run-off. Now-a-days, the agricultural industry changing its practices to be more water wise and even the best system of drip irrigation only reduce the loss of water by 1/4th comparing flooding method, which is nothing close to the hydroponics. In recent times the science of urban farming has become hugely popular and hydroponics is leading the way in this green revolution.
While the technique became an instant hit in the West, where people initially used
hydroponics and its farming variants to grow marijuana, it did not take too long to catch the fancy of scientists, entrepreneurs and practitioners of agriculture across the globe. And in India, hydroponic farms are omnipresent — found in the arid tracts of Jaipur, landlocked Delhi-NCR, in humid weather conditions of Goa and various places in the southern parts of the country.
The future of Hydroponics
As population increases and agricultural land declines due to poor land management, people will turn to new technologies like hydroponics and vertical farming to create additional channels of crop production. Hydroponics is the fastest growing sector of agriculture, and it could very well dominate food production in the future.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
The growing methods for each type of crop can be different so as the hydroponic system. When you are choosing between the various hydroponic systems, knowing about the basics of that system will help you in making the decision.
Here is a quick go through some of the hydroponic systems:
Standing Aerated Nutrient Solution:
This system is commonly known as DWC (deep water culture) system. Standing aerated nutrient solution is a hydroponic system in which the nutrient solution is static, suspending the plant roots in the nutrient solution. Replacement of nutrient solution is required every 5 to 10 days (frequency depends on the number of plants and system volume). A crop like lettuce can be successfully grown in this system on Styrofoam sheets floating on an aerated nutrient solution.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):
Nutrient Film Technique, gully channels are used in this system to grow plants, the nutrient solution keeps flowing in these gully channels. A pump connected to the reservoir pumps the nutrient solution to the NFT channels. One of the advantages of the NFT is the easy installation of the system and the relatively low cost of the materials. There are two different types of NFT systems.
Horizontal NFT System
Vertical NFT System
Aeroponic System drastically reduces the amount of water used in growing crops as plant roots get their nutrients and water through the aerosol mist sprayed on them. Plant roots get the oxygen from the air while suspending. Aeroponic System is comparatively challenging to manage but much more economical in the use of nutrients and water.
Dutch Bucket Grow System System:
As the name is depicting, this system uses buckets to grow plants. These buckets can vary in size, depending on the requirement of the grower. The bucket has growing media consisting vermiculite. Plants having much larger roots are grown with the help of the Dutch Bucket system like tomato and cucumber.
It is also a soil-free technique. The symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants allows to grow a wide variety of seasonal vegetables along with edible fish. There is continual reuse and recycling of water through naturally occurring biological processes. Basically, the waste from fish produces natural bacteria that converts waste like ammonia into nitrate. This nitrate is then absorbed by plants as a source of nutrients. The basic principle of aquaponics is to put waste to use.
There are some parameters that should be in mind for setting up the hydroponic farm like:
- Land on which the hydroponic farm will set up: Choosing where to set up your hydroponic farm is crucial. The land should have proper access to electricity, water, and a nearby market.
- Outer Structure:
The outer structure of the hydroponic farm provides a protected environment for the crops. There are two types of outer structure mainly, one is polyhouse type, and the other is the greenhouse type. Both the structure has distinct advantages.
- Growing System: The growing system depends on the type of plant you want to grow in your hydroponic farm. If you are planning to grow crops like lettuce, kale, the NFT system will be suitable and if you need to grow vegetable crops like tomato and cucumber, the Dutch bucket system will be fit.
- Temperature and Irrigation Controlling System: Temperature and Irrigation Controlling System: The temperature controlling system will maintain an optimum temperature for the growth of crops. The irrigation system will irrigate or pumps the nutrient solution to the growing system and continuously monitors the moisture.
So, the estimated cost of setting up a hydroponic farm in India in one-acre will come between Rs.45 lakhs to Rs.82 lakhs. It is an estimated cost and can vary according to specific choice of equipment.
A hydroponic farm of one-acre can produce around 62,000 to 65,000 lettuce plants, apart from the high investment, the profitability can easily overcome this.
Now-a-days many farms have been raised all over the country acquiring this system and they commercially grow and reach their organic healthier products to the people. Some of these farms are mentioned below:
- Garden Guru, Bengaluru, Karnataka.
- UrbanKissan Farm, Hyderabad, Telangana.
- Ponic Greens Hydroponics, New Delhi.
- Urbagrow Aquaponics, Kolkata, West Bengal.
Advantages of Hydroponics
- Plantation without soil:
We can grow plants in places where the land is limited, doesn’t exist, or is contaminated.
- Better use of space and location:
All that plants need are provided and maintained in a system, plants can be grown in a small apartment, bedrooms or kitchen as long as you have some spaces. As in case of Hydroponics, roots are sunk in a tank full of oxygenated nutrient solution and are directly in contact with vital minerals, it ensures the plants to grow closer, and consequently save huge spaces.
- Climate control:
Hydroponic growers can have total control on climate, temperature, humidity, light, the composition of the air. Farmers can produce foods at the right time to maximize their profits regardless of the season
- Water saving:
Plants grown by the process of hydroponically can use 10% of water, as compared to one grown on the field because water is recirculated, in this method.
- Better growth rate and yield:
As plants are placed in favourable conditions, nutrients are provided at and come into direct contacts with the root systems. Therefore, plants do not waste valuable energy in search for diluted nutrients in the soil and put their complete focus on growth. Plants direct all their energy into producing higher yields.
- Hydroponic offers environment protection technique:
As global warming becomes a bigger issue for the world, there is a constant need for better ways to cut down on CO2 emissions to help the environment thrive. And this system helps to maintain the production eco-friendly.
Disadvantages of Hydroponics
Like any other farming system these has also some disadvantages:
- It requires time and commitment:
Plants grown in soil can be left on its own for days and weeks, and they can survive in a short time. But it’s not same in hydroponics. Plants will die if care is not taken properly.
- Knowledge and Experiences:
The system will run on many types of equipments which will require expertise for the use of device, what plants can be grown and how they will survive and flourish in a soilless environment. Any mistake in setting up the systems can affect the plants growth and end up the whole progress.
3.Water and electricity risks:
In this system, mostly water and electricity are used. so, Beware of electricity in a combination of water in close vicinity. Ensure safety precautions first when working with water and electric equipment.
The commercial hydroponic industry is expected grow exponentially. Government intervention and university interest can propel the use of the technology. It has numerous applications on modern life and will likely continue to have a significant impact on life on earth far into the future. Hydroponic farm systems generate an average revenue of $21.15 per square foot. Regardless of what structure is being used, profit is about 60% of the time. Leafy greens like lettuce are the most profitable crops to grow in hydroponic systems because they have some of the lowest operation costs.
Basically, hydroponic offers a whole lot more than a dirt-free way of bringing up usual crops. It helps to increase yields while saving growers time, money, and effort.
- https://home.howstuffworks.com/lawn-garden/professional landscaping/aquaponics1.htm