TWT News

Hydroponics: Futuristic Farming, Today

There’s nothing quite like a bowl of fresh berries in the summer, or enjoying a nice, crisp salad using recently picked veggies. Apples pulled straight off of the tree always taste better than the ones from the grocery store. Fresh produce is a wonderful and delicious thing- but it’s also expensive to grow, transport, and purchase. The biggest reason boils down to how many resources are necessary for plant growth. There needs to be adequate land, water and nutrients for even a small head of lettuce to grow, and urban environments usually lack such space.

Hydroponics, however, is a more effective solution to farming and gardening in general. Instead of using dirt and gallons upon gallons of water to nurture the plants, the roots of hydroponically-grown plants are exposed to a nutrient-filled, water-based solution like peat moss or rockwool. Despite the reliance on water, studies have shown that it actually uses less water than traditional gardening and farming methods. It also requires less land, as plants can be kept in smaller containers (due to the root system being smaller) and can be combined with vertical farming for even more space-saving.

Hydroponics also boasts a quicker growth rate than traditional methods. Because the roots of the plant are in constant contact with nutrients, the root system won’t need to grow as large to provide the same level of nutrients to the plant above. The plant may also grow to be larger- up to 30%- than traditionally-grown produce for the same reasons. It’s a practice in opposites: the more nutrients the roots take in, the smaller the roots need to be, leading to more focus on the plant to grow the main attraction, as it were.

That being said, hydroponics isn’t without its disadvantages. Plants have to be constantly monitored to ensure that nutrient and pH levels are perfect. Building a larger hydroponics setup is time-consuming and expensive. And while nutrients and base solutions have to be ordered from specialty stores, dirt and soil are plentiful and cheap. A constant supply of fresh water is also integral.

Despite this, hydroponics is still a successful form of farming and continues to be seen as a worthy substitute for traditional methods. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a woman named Beth Tucker sells her hydroponically-grown tomatoes in local grocery stores and provides them to restaurants. The “Living with the Land” attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot features a boat ride through a hydroponics greenhouse, where fruit and vegetables are grown to be used for dining around the resort- and has been operating since the park’s opening 35 years ago.

But the press surrounding hydroponics isn’t always positive. Recently, several groups have questioned whether keeping the practice categorized as “organic farming” to be a wise choice. When hydroponics first emerged on a larger scale, it was mostly done during the off-season to keep farms in business while their main crops couldn’t be grown. Now that the size of the hydroponics industry has grown, and the methods have evolved, some wonder if it’s time for hydroponics to leave the organic label. The National Organic Standards Board met last October in Jacksonville, Florida, and voted 8-7 to keep hydroponics within the definition of “organic.” This has proven to be controversial in the farming community, with some believing hydroponics (and similar methods like vertical farming and aeroponics) should have their own category.

None of this changes just how impactful the hydroponics industry is, however. It’s made fresh produce more accessible to thousands and has brought science to an industry that many consider to be primitive (a false claim, no matter what method is used). It also highlights the ingenuity of humankind and the adaptability of plants. So if nobody minds, I’ll take a second helping, please.