Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil by bathing their roots in a nutrient solution. It holds great promise of increasing the carrying capacity of the earth, and reducing the footprint of human agriculture. This is because:
- Hydroponics eliminates the need for soil and the labor involved in soil building and care.
- It greatly reduces the need for pesticides since many pests can simply be quarantined out of the structure.
- It requires extremely low levels of water and fertilizer use compared to conventional agriculture.
- It enables massive increases in yield per acre.
Average U.S. yields for greenhouse tomatoes (which includes both hydroponics and soil-based forms of controlled environment agriculture) are 484 metric tons/hectare. Average U.S. yields for field tomatoes, on the other hand, are 32 metric tons/hectare (Source(pdf, P. 4)). "By providing all the plant's nutrients via hydroponics and regulating the environment, yields can be very high, as much as 15 times greater than field production per year"(Source: same as above, P. 69).
This is not a hypothetical technology. Greenhouse tomatoes are a real-world industry:
In 2003, in the United States and Mexico, the greenhouse shares of total fresh tomato production were 9 and 8 percent, respectively, but are likely higher now. In Canada, greenhouse tomatoes now completely dominate fresh tomato production, with an 89-percent share.(Source: same as above, P. v)California has even gone so far as to legally define a greenhouse tomato as hydroponically-grown:
In September 2004, the State of California adopted a definition requiring tomatoes labeled as greenhouse to be grown in "a fixed steel structure using irrigation and climate control, in an artificial medium that substitutes for soil" This means that any tomatoes labeled as greenhouse and marketed in California must be grown hydroponically.(Source: same as above P. 6)
They just have no taste tho, that stuff has no flavor.
How do you know?
Hydroponics require a much more expensive growing environment than traditional forms of farming. Hydroponics in it's self does not increase crop yeilds, it is the combination of growing in a greenhouse (appears most hydroponic crops are grown in glass/plastic green houses) and adding chemical fertilizers to the inert growing medium. Hydroponics is an expensive way to grow food, the same results can be acheived growing crops in normal soil under green houses while at the same time checking the soil nutrients and adding any that are lacking. One advantage of hydroponics is that the inert growing medium drains better and allows more oxygen to the roots than in soil. Hydroponics will not increase food production and will just cost more money.
Hydroponics cannot and will not increase carrying capacity; plants require certain nutrients which must be derived from somewhere. In terms of usage of nutrients, hydroponic systems are somewhat more efficient than growing in regular soil, but the energy required to maintain the environment in the warehouse is more than enough to offset any advantages gained.
That said, there are some solutions that work on a small scale, but we wouldn't be able to build enough of them to make any meaningful impact on population pressure.
Previous anon: you're right about nutrients, but in some areas I'm sure arable land is the main limiting factor in food production. Hydroponics can help with that... if they can afford it.
How does this relate to peak oil?
Dukat: Hydroponics require a much more expensive growing environment than traditional forms of farming. Hydroponics in it's self does not increase crop yeilds, it is the combination of growing in a greenhouse (appears most hydroponic crops are grown in glass/plastic green houses) and adding chemical fertilizers to the inert growing medium. Hydroponics is an expensive way to grow food, the same results can be acheived growing crops in normal soil under green houses while at the same time checking the soil nutrients and adding any that are lacking. One advantage of hydroponics is that the inert growing medium drains better and allows more oxygen to the roots than in soil. Hydroponics will not increase food production and will just cost more money.
Can you back up your counter claims (the expensive price outweighing the increased crop yoelds) with sources? I'm sure there is a good counterargument, but let's see some numbers please...
As for my own opinion, if the greenhouse techs can provide food at a cost-effective rate (or at least a competitive rate) for those in urban areas, it deserves a good look!
As fossils fuels become too expensive, perhaps greenhouse hydroponics could be fesible close to cities for luxury items like tomatoes. (hydroponics allways use tomatoes as the example, but they provide very little energy to the eater) I very much doubt that soybeans and many other crops which supplies a vast amount of food supply for animal raising and human consumption could be done as hydroponics for the same cheapness as it is grown in 3rd world farms currently. It's like growing a forest hydroponicly, it just can be done, and if it could be done it wouldn't be worth the cost. I'm sorry James I don't have any numbers for you, but as you might realise, I could use numbers from various studies to push either pro or against, but as like in the real world, some stuides are successful and some arn't, there's no real point in gathering numbers and depending on where they are from they will show a different story.
I grow food in a greenhouse designed for maximum efficiency (though I do not use hydroponics as both the initial and ongoing costs were prohibitive). I produce quite a lot of food from it, but I do not believe it will be scaleable to increase carrying capacity. More likely, it will help certain individuals and families be less reliant on the food production chain we currently use. I recommend greenhouses, just don't think that they're going to be the answer.
Hi there. Great Job! I am starting a Commercial Organic Aquaponics Fish farm myself. If you get a chance check out Hydroponics and Hydroponics blog.
It is amazing how many people are willing to put their opinions out on the web for millions of people to see when they have no knowledge of the subjects they are opining on.
Compared to conventional farming, hydroponics is far more space/water/energy and growth speed efficient, as well as requiring no weeding or pesticides, and having no toxic runoff. In the case of Aquaponics where fish waste is used to feed the plants, not only do you get a dual crop of vegetables and fish, but there is no (or minimal) cost for fertilizer.
There are some disadvantages to hydroponics, in that it is fairly expensive to set up, but there is no need for heavy equipment like tractors and plows. It also requires some close attention to the nutrient solution to assure that the plants are getting what they need for optimal growth.
As far as the flavor of hydroponic vegetables is concerned, tomatoes for example, the main cause of lackluster flavor is the choice of variety of tomato grown. Most large farms grow varieties that are chosen for their ability to withstand the rough handling of shipping intact. Heirloom varieties grown hydroponically are comparable in flavor to conventionally grown Heirloom varieties. Of course fertilizer type (along with variety) is a main component in determining the flavor quality, but that is independent of the growing method.
Presumably hydroponics are also restricted to self-pollinators? If all the bugs are quarantined out cross pollination isn't going to occur. That severely restricts the variety of food hydroponics can deliver.
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