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Farming without Soil: Is Hydroponics the new Buzzword?

By Enterprise Technology Review | Monday, September 30, 2019

Modern farming methods are enabling farmers to shift from conventional soil-based cultivation to water-based ones, giving rise to many new possibilities.  

FREMONT, CA: The general notion of agriculture that most people have involves extensive croplands on countryside farms. For the longest time, populations have depended on the supplies from such farms. All of that is now changing with the growth and advancement of agricultural technology firms which are redefining the conventions associated with farming. A particular methodology that is turning into a trend in the farming space is that of hydroponics. Hydroponic farming makes use of water-based mediums to grow plants where space or soil is limited. Greenhouses, in combinations with hydroponics, are being used to develop efficient farming systems, mostly in urban areas.    

The Need for the Alternative

Long years of intensive farming practices have degraded large tracts of land and destroyed the nutrient balance. Many variants of crops have a high water requirement which leads to exhaustion of water resources. The combination of these factors, coupled with that of growing populations and ever-increasing demands, are making farming highly unsustainable. The United Nations has predicted food shortages repeatedly as the population on earth continues growing. In such scenarios, it is imperative that stakeholders look beyond traditional farming. The emergence of hydroponics marks a crucial turning point in agriculture as it has the potential to help the sector overcome the challenges it currently faces.

Salads to get Fresher and Greener

Manufacturers and restaurateurs are emerging as the leading adopters of hydroponics. The hydroponics market has been growing steadily. According to a report by Research Nester, the hydroponics market in the US is going to touch $3695 Million by 2025 with a CAGR of 20.3%. Several startups, mergers, and acquisitions mark the current developments in the hydroponic segment. The demand for fresh, organic produce has been rising. Localizing the production of green leafy vegetables through hydroponics allows restaurants to serve salads that are fresh and healthy. From reducing the need for transportation to bringing down wastage, hydroponics has many advantages. Now, producers can meet the demands and expectations of consumers convincingly.

The Growth of Urban Agriculture

Until recently, the idea of growing crops in urban areas was not a possibility. Although the concentration of consumers in urban areas is high, limitations of resources made it impossible to imagine anything beyond small kitchen gardens. Hydroponics is changing the rules and creating feasible opportunities for urban farming. By making use of nutrient-rich solutions that deliver the minerals to plant roots, hydroponics is giving cities a chance to develop vertical farms with yields that are higher than what one expects from soil-based cultivation. The efficiency of delivering nutrients gets a significant boost when hydroponics is used.

Transformation through Technology

While the methodology is based on replacing the soil with ionic solutions, there are several technologies that are applied in conjunction to make hydroponics viable. Apart from the nutrients, plants require controlled environments. A greenhouse with advanced controls gives the right support to hydroponics systems. From monitoring metrics like humidity and temperature within the facility to mechanizing processes, the role of technology has continuously been growing. Hydroponics is considered to be technology-intensive and requires substantial investments to create infrastructure with varying degrees of automation in them. However, the artificial setting with lights, heaters, nutrient solutions, and other associated equipment ultimately produce higher yields of better quality throughout the year, making hydroponics a profitable option. Sensor-based technology has seen advancements and agtech players are making the most of it by incorporating IoT-based capabilities to create smart hydroponic facilities.

Hydroponics is optimizing farming like never before, opening up new opportunities. Soil-less agriculture is already taking roots which might subsequently penetrate to make urban agriculture productive and profitable.

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