Advantages of Hydroponics system
Maximum crop yield, high density, crop production where no suitable soil exists, virtual indifference to external temperature and seasonality, use of water and fertilizers, efficient use of land area, effective disease control, remains almost weed free, more accurate control over the supply of water, nutrient, pH, EC etc and suitability for mechanization.
Very high cost of capital and energy inputs, high degree of competence in plant science, high degree of engineering skills for the successful operation of the system. Because of high installation cost, this system gets limited to crops of high economic value, to specific regions and often to specific times of year when comparable open field crops are not available.
There seems to be a kind of technological imperative driving development of hydroponic CEA. Agriculture, like manufacturing, generally moves towards higher technology, more capital-intensive solution problems. Hydroponics epitomizes high technology and is capital intensive. It is highly productive, suitable for automation, conservation, protection of the environment, and yet for most employees, requires only basic agriculture skills. It can agree (and has been) that hydroponic CEA is the next logical step after traditional OFA.
Hydroponics is an inherently attractive technology, easier to promote but difficult to sustain. Countries having sufficient land under cultivation may not be having much scope for soil less culture. But, where land is a constraint for growing especially for protected flowers and vegetables and off season flower production. Multiple cropping and intensive cultures by hydroponics will have profound changes in the social life. Flower and food production and its regular supply will increase employment. In the near future this technique becomes helpful to produce extra food and flowers without land.
Fresh flowers, in near future, may be raised in window boxes, roof tops, veranda backyards of pavements by hydroponic system. Deserts, rocky and stony land in mountainous or barren land and wastelands can be made productive to meet the regional need of crops. This, in turn, can provide employment to thousands of people.
Future research strategy
It is agreed by a majority of people that scientific knowledge is not available to the common man who can go in for soilless cultivation of flowers and food crops. Therefore, it is urgently needed to standardize the techniques under local conditions. A summary of research needs include (but is not limited to) the following:
(1) In all types of soilless culture, the mixture of water and fertilizers is the essence of the technology. This nutrient solution formulation is the monopoly of a few companies only. Research is required to standardize the formulations as per the type of crop and region. Simple techniques of formulating nutrient solutions would be more than a welcome step.
(2) Land is limited and it can’t be spread for taking it under plough and hence alternate methods of growing crops have to be fully known in advance.
(3) There is a need to screen out crops as much as possible and after having confirmed experiments, only then such crops with standardized techniques should be made known to the public along with containers.
(4) Design of a plant bioengineering programme to develop new temperature tolerant, machine harvestable, disease resistant hydroponic CEA cultivars.
(5) Root temperature studies to determine influence on growth rates and plant development.
(6) Integrated pest management systems for hydroponics CEA applications in order to minimize the need for pesticides.
(7) The development and governmental approval of chemicals for disease and pest control in the greenhouse.
(8) New aggregate material (s) e.g. counterpart of European rock wool for low cost installation and maintenance.
(9) Wider utilization of industrial waste heat for greenhouse heating.
(10) Decrease in investment of installation of a hydroponic unit is the urgent need.
(11) Low capital, low energy “green house of future” is required.
(12) Research in plant breeding to evolve short duration crops specially adapted to controlled environment agriculture (CEA) production. Machine harvestable cultivars.
(13) Specific disease and pest control measures for CEA are to be devised.
(14) Complex technology does not spread well unless supported by an even more strong social infrastructure of modern education, communication, transportation etc.
Thus, further technological improvements, public subsidy of new installations, better social infrastructure are likely to encourage the adoption of hydroponic techniques for production of fresh flowers in many countries of the world.
(The Authors are Faculty, Division of FLA SKUAST-K, Shalimar)