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Transcript of Hydroponics 101
-increasing demand for corn and other agricultural products used in expanding production of ethanol
-large increase in price of corn in 2007, was due to increasing demand on part of government-subsidized ethanol plants
-A United Nations report in 2009 estimated that by 2017, as much as 40% of corn crop could be produced for energy production
-producing ethanol from corn is both inefficient and resource heavy
-it will contribute to rising agricultural commodity prices in the future
photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
Saving the World, One Harvest at a Time
A Brief Overview
As children, we learned that plants need three basic elements to survive; soil, sun and water.
Traditional methods of farming have always raised controversy in this modern era over environmental damage (fertilizers, deforestation, etc.)
Hydroponics provides all of the benefits of modern agriculture, without all of the environmental problems.
How Does it Work?
Our ancient ancestors learned how to manipulate water to cultivate land for agriculture but control of the sun and soil remained beyond their grasp.
That is no longer the case.
There are several ways to grow plants through hydroponics.
What Is It?
Hydroponics- The process of growing terrestrial plants in the absence of soil.
Irrigation, mastery over water, allowed hamlets to grow into towns.
Eventually those towns morphed into marvelous ancient megalopoli such as Alexandria, Egypt. It, located on a rocky desert coast, continues to thrive even today ever since its founding in 331 BCE.
With the advent of electricity, humanity mastered the power of the sun. We commanded heat and light. Cities grew. We experienced abundance like never before.
Today, hydroponics offers us total control. Nothing short of the ability to break free of nature's shackles.
Nothing short of the ability to end starvation.
The Wick System
The wick system uses a wick to draw a nutrient solution into a growth medium. An air pump and air stone are used to oxygenate the solution. This system only works for small plants.
The Water Culture System
Plants are placed on a styrofoam platform which floats directly atop the nutrient solution. This system only works for small water loving plants like lettuce.
Ebb and Flow System
A timer activates a pump, which floods a growing tray containing a growth medium with nutrient solution. After a set time, the timer deactivates the pump, draining the growing tray. This cycle repeats several times during a day.
It can be adjusted to suit the requirements of the plant type and size and the growth medium.
This system is versatile compared to other systems but vulnerable to power outages and timer/pump breakdowns.
The Drip System
Much like the ebb and flow system, the drip system uses a timer and pump.
When the timer activates the pump, the nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of plant from a tube above the plant.
There are two variants of this system, one which recovers run-off nutrient solution and one that does not.
The recovery system is less expensive but requires more maintenance as the recycled runoff affects the nutrient strength and pH of the nutrient solution in the reservoir.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Nutrient solution is constantly pumped into a plastic tray in which the plant's roots are hanging. The solution simply flows over the exposed roots.
There is no growth medium other than air, meaning that the cost of replacing the growth medium after every harvest is deductible. There is also no timer required as the flow of the solution should be constant.
Like all systems that use pumps and/or timers, the NFT is also vulnerable to power outages and equipment failures.
Aeroponics is much like NFT, where the plant roots are exposed to the air. However, instead of running water by the roots, the water is sprayed onto the roots through a mist nozzle. The interval between sprays must be extremely short because roots dry quickly in air.
Increased and more stable crop yields
Crop yields aren't limited by the availability of fertile soil
Water can be recycled in a closed loop which is beneficial in desert environments or drought prone regions
Libyan farms dependent on non-renewable underground water deposits are one of the areas that could use hydroponics to retain their water
Reduced chance of bacterial disease in plants
Reduced cost of fresh produce for the consumer
Creates employment in spin-off industries (growth medium manufacturing, equipment manufacturing, etc.)
Much smaller land requirement for equal or greater output
Operation and maintenance cost is lower than a farm
Produce can be grown anywhere (deserts, building rooftops etc.)
Certain hydroponic conditions encourage the growth of salmonella
Hydroponics requires the use of uncontaminated water because otherwise, an entire crop could go to waste
The entire process is susceptible to power outages
Setting up a hydroponic farm is initially expensive
Deforestation is a major issue. It not only destroys habitats but, if it is done on a massive scale, the results can be disastrous for humans as well.
Within the last forty years, 20% of the Amazon rainforest was lost to human activity. The land was replaced with cattle ranches and soybean farms. 95% of the yield from those soybean farms goes to feeding livestock and poultry in Asia and Europe.
Roughly twenty-five years ago, the island of Borneo was carpeted by a green primary forest. At current rates of deforestation, the forest will have disappeared entirely by 2019. The forest was replaced by palm oil farms and eucalyptus plantations. Eucalyptus leaves, when they are shed, form a bed of toxic detritus in which nothing other than eucalyptus can grow.
On the small island nation of Haiti, only 2% of the forests that used to cover the land remains. The land has been eroded extensively and much of the island is no longer suitable for agriculture.
Every year, 13 million hectares of forest disappear. 40% of arable land globally has suffered permanent damage.
Strain on the Environment
Our supply of fresh, usable water is not infinite. Farming is the largest part of total human water usage
Growing one kilogram of potatoes uses 100 L of water. Growing one kilogram of rice uses 4000 L of water. Obtaining one kilogram of beef costs 13 000 L of water.
As a nation becomes more developed, its citizens consume more meat. The already large disparity between personal water usage in developed and third world nations only becomes larger when indirect water consumption is included.
While we may take our situation for granted, fresh water is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
780 million people lack access to clean water or a means of obtaining it. This is predicted to be 2 billion people by 2025.
The Environmental Problems with Our Current System
In Western India, 30% of all wells have been abandoned.
The Environmental Benefits of Hydroponics
Prevents Excessive Deforestation
Hydroponics does not require fertile soil like nutrient rich soil of forests/ jungles.
Hydroponic farms can be set up anywhere including deserts or even city building rooftops.
More efficient land usage reduces deforestation because hydroponic farm towers make use of the vertical dimension and existing spaces. reduced.
Makes Efficient Use of Resources
The Economic Benefits of Hydroponics
In a report by the Congressional Research Service, crop yield decreased by 27% from the original expectation due to flash droughts (Figure 4).Economic opportunities are restricted to location with conventional farming methods. Areas with little precipitation and poor soil quality can use hydroponic systems that regulate environmental conditions. With the shelter of the greenhouse, there are no concerns of pest control costs.
-Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water in the world
-70% of all the water removed from rivers, wells and resevoirs is used for irrigation
-The annual river runoff and water availability will decrease by 10% to 30% over much of the US
-Transportation of foods, another fuel-dependent expense
- A CIBC analysis in 2009 estimated that the distance travelled for food transport split for the average Canadian is 37000 miles a day roughly, 1.5 times the circumference of the earth
-Vertical farms in urban cities (no transport required form rural farms) that have food available all year long (no transport required from other countries) and consume far less water are the answer to these limitations
Inefficient Resource Consumption
(especially for oil and fossil fuels)
(impact both the supply and demand)
-fuel required to operate farm machinery, irrigate crops and to heat and power farm operations
-large input cost for most farm operators
-price of natural gas important in determining the price of many fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide products
-In a study performed in Iowa in 2009, an estimate suggests that over the course of a growing season, farmers consume about 5 ½ gallons of fuel for every acre they farm
-US agricultural sector consumes up to 10% of all energy consumed annually in US making agriculture one of the most energy consuming industries as a whole
Rising Energy Prices
A balance between feeding the world's rapidly increasing population with the need to preserve the food-producing capacity and the natural ecosystems of the Earth for future generations.
Question of Ethics
Paul Thompson (agricultural ethicists): “Agricultural producers and those who support them with technology may have been seduced into thinking that so long as they increased food availability, they were exempt from the constant process of politically negotiating and renegotiating the moral bargain that is at the foundations of the modern democratic society.” Agricultural officials have a “moral confidence” in their profession and often fail to see the need to examine their choices.
Two major aspects
1.food production processing
2. mass agricultural production
One study using FAO data suggests that an additional 300 million acres, an area twice the size of France, will be needed to support growth in food production under a ‘business as usual scenario’ up to the year 2030 (Land Commodities 2009). The problem, of course, is that the prospect of bringing such large new tracts of land into agricultural production is virtually nil. As the diagram above illustrates , the relationship between population growth and the growth of arable land in production remained relatively constant from at least 1700 until approximately 1950.
The Natural Process
The amount of water required for hydroponics is 10- 15% of the amount used in conventional farms.
Used water, mixed in pesticides and fertilizers, does not drain out into local bodies of water.
Excessive use of fertilizer and pesticide is not required as incidents of pests ravaging crops in a secure and cordoned off environment are minimal.
Large industrial hydroponic farms consume up to 8 million litres of water a day, but the water can be provided in the form of rain. Therefore all water, when drained, can be recollected and reused.
Cocoa fibre, when used as a medium to hold the plants (due to high nutrient contents and easy absorption), is composted to be sold as bedding plant mix.
Overall, water resources would not be depleted as the system efficiently consumes and recycles the water.
Controllability of the Process
•On the other hand, it is not Kantian if the companies that are producing hydroponically grown food are using consumers as a means to just make profit
-The process of hydroponics requires careful control over nutrients to form an optimal nutrient solution
-For instance, mixes should not be made merely to take advantage of availability or low cost, but should consider the basic factors of weight, nutrient retention, water-holding capacity, pore space, and C:N ratio.
-Since the pH of a hydroponic system needs to be buffered (the soil buffers the nutrients in agricultural growth), hydroponic growers need to assure that their system’s pH is being appropriately buffered and retained
•Therefore, hydroponic growers should carefully monitor their growing processes
Growth of Illegal Goods (Cannabis)
•Since hydroponics involves indoor cultivation, it is commonly used for growing marijuana, which is illegal in most countries
•Hydroponic growing is therefore given a negative stigma as it encourages illegal activity
Hydroponic systems are widely used for cannabis cultivation.
•In countries like Japan, where land are is limited, hydroponic systems can be used for greater food production and product yield
-It overcomes spatial constraints
•This would increase the self-sufficiency of a nation•Hydroponic systems used as a means of food production is considered socially beneficial as
a. The nutrients can be controlled through the formulation of nutrient solutions
b. It can result in increasing product yield and therefore greater production overall
c. Seasonal and conditional requirements do not affect hydroponic growth
A Subway restaurant in Japan hydroponically grows its lettuce.
The "Organic" Debate
The “Organic” Food Phenomenon
•Increased popularity of organic products over the last two decades
-Hydroponic growers have become more aware of this
•Many consumers choose “organic” food believing that they are assured pesticide-free, non-hazardous food
•Modern hydroponic food can produce equally safe food than “organic” farming methods and in many cases can also provide greater nutrition and taste
•However, hydroponic food is generally not considered organic as it is artificially grown
Should Hydroponic Cultivation Systems
be Certified Organic?
•This poses a great issue for hydroponic growers who also want organic recognition
-The primary problem is a soilless nutrient solution
-The secondary issue is the way in which hydroponic nutrient solution and media such as rockwool is disposed of
•Organic nutrient regulations prohibit the use of many mineral salts and highly refined substances, such as food and pharmaceutical grade substances that are instrumental for successful hydroponic nutrient formulation
•If hydroponic growers can find a way to entirely recycle used nutrients and media, the argument for organic hydroponic certification grows stronger. However, this is still being formulated.
The Major Stakeholders
General Human Population
•Hydroponics has produced an accelerated growth of food production
-This is a positive aspect for all humans as it increases the possibility of overcoming world hunger
•The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says the world's population is projected to reach approximately 9 billion by 2050.
-Hydroponic systems will substantially aid in feeding the growing human population
•Lessening hunger by feeding a large magnitude of humans will lead to greater happiness
•Farmers will suffer losses as they depend on seasonal and conditional cultivation, whereas hydroponics can be used year-round and can therefore supply the demand more frequently
•The income of this occupation will significantly decrease
•However, farmers have the option of shifting to hydroponic systems
-The technology is accessible but expensive to start up
Not only can large areas of land be concentrated into smaller spaces but they also have greater prodctivity. A farmer could reduce the amount of land used tenfold, yet maintain or even increase productivity in that fractional space. Individual homes could become self sufficient to a large extent.
Statistics from Hydroponic vertical farm in Anthony, TX run by Glen Kertz of Valcent Products Inc.
Hydroponic growers can supply fresh foods year-round.
•Since hydroponic systems are run by machines, fewer humans will be required in the industry
-A shift from conventional farming to hydroponic farming will therefore result in growing loss of jobs
•Less labour workers will be required and will thereby be replaced with a smaller, highly trained staff to develop the processes
-Demand for specialists will grow
•Less labour needed in agricultural sectors will result in lower income in rural communities
The interior of a large industrial hydroponic farm
•As hydroponic growers can provide fresh produce at greater convenience, they will charge competitively high prices
•Consumers in developing nations may find it more difficult to initially access hydroponically grown foods
•However, if a paradigm shift gradually occurs in food production, hydroponic food will eventually be affordable and increasingly accessible to a wider population
•The scientific field will continue to advance due to growing demand for hydroponic systems
•The demand for specialists, therefore, will significantly rise
•Scientists will be able to benefit from growing discoveries that promote the use of hydroponic systems
Conventional farming methods alone will not be able to satisfy the growing demand for crops.
Though many are discouraged by the costly initial set up for hydroponics, the long term finances become beneficial.
For tomato farms: $50 for one metre square to set up
$70 to $80 in revenue per metre square
•Plants grown hydroponically are not genetically modified in the process
•Genetically modifying plants is an invasive process
-plants are genetically altered by adding foreign genes
•This is agrees with Kantian philosophy as hydroponics is a maxim acceptable by nature as there are no invasive processes involved
Plants grow quickly in the optimized conditions provided.
Cucumbers are kept for only 5 weeks before they can be harvested.
-Pesticide run-off is due to the intensive use on farm land. DDT helped save millions of people in areas where mosquitoes spread malaria, but its accumulation in the food chain damages the nervous system of the humans and farm animals . Pesticides extend beyond just farmland and into low-income communities, as Industrial Agriculture tends to occupy areas in which the neighbors are low-income communities. Often the farmers employed are immigrants in low income communities who work long hours for a small amount of pay
Farmers and consumers question technologies, pest control practices and genetic engineering of crops, to ensure if they are consistent with human health, and the sustainability of the Earth's ecosystems. How should they balance their short-term needs (production) with the long-term needs of future generations?
Agriculture requires not only the replacement of natural ecosystems with crop fields (which leads to the loss of biodiversity and massive carbon dioxide release) but results in groundwater pollution, soil erosion, pesticide pollution, and other environmental stresses.
1987 Brundtland Report: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
Sustaining resources for agriculture:
cheap energy to produce nitrogen fertilizer and water for irrigation
carbon and nitrogen cycles, hydrological cycles, and global climate change
sustainability of the rural community structure
1.Access to sufficient food to sustain a healthy and productive life
2.Malnutrition is absent
3.Food originates from efficient, effective, and low-cost food systems
4.sustainable natural resources
The spraying of DDT for malaria control which made its way into the food chain
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York City: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962.
Chrispeels, Maarten J. Agricultural Ethics. May 2003. http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/132/1/4.full (accessed December 2012).
Eisenhauer, Tom, and Jan Kaminski. "Investing in Canadian Agriculture." Bonnefield Farmland for Farming. : 9-14. http://bonnefield.com/uploads/pdfs/Investing in Canadian Agriculture.pdf (accessed December 29, 2012).
Kamakani, No`eau. 2004. Ethics in Hydroponics. [cited January 5, 2013]; 3-13. Available from: http://beepdf.com/doc/75553/ethics_in_hydroponics.html
Prof. Gert Venter. D.Eng. Successful Hydroponics: 21st Century Technology for Commercial and Home Applications [Internet]. Xlibris Corporation; c2010 [cited 2013 Jan 1]; [about 1 screen]. Available from: http://books.google.ca/books?id=5AgwT0rLEMC&pg=PA6&dq=place+of+publication+of+Successful+Hydroponics:+21st+Century+Technology+for+Commercial+and+Home+Applications&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NZzrUI7hGsql2AWK6IGoAQ&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=place%20of%20publication%20of%20Successful%20Hydroponics%3A%2021st%20Century%20Technology%20for%20Commercial%20and%20Home%20Applications&
The Debate on Organic Hydroponics [Internet]. General Hydroponics. [cited January 5, 2013]; 1-11. Available from: http://www.generalhydroponics.com/genhydro_US/quicktips/OrganicHydroponicArticle.pdf
Brundtland, GH. "World Commission on Environment and Development." Tokyo, 1987.
"Vertical farming: Does it really stack up?." The Economist. no. Q4 (2010). http://www.economist.com/node/17647627 (accessed January 1, 2013).
The Economic Drawbacks of Hydroponics
Due to highly organized rooting systems, farmers can increase crop density, allowing more produce with a smaller area. With highly nutrient water and absorbent mediums, the water is efficiently used, even having cases where they only require 5% of the water in conventional farming systems on an open field.
With earlier mention of no location limitations, hydroponic farms can be set up in urban areas leading to less costs in preservation and transportation. Produce is then more fresh and inviting to costumers.