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Hydroponic Methods: Exploring Alternatives for Water Conservation in Farming

hydroponic methods, a hand holding a green leafy plant

Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a specified period or when poor quality of the water restricts its use. The world’s water problem is real and significant steps must be taken before it is too late. Farming and irrigation contribute highly to the water stress the world has been facing in recent years. The industry seriously considers hydroponic methods for farming to reduce environmental impact. Companies like Cloudponics, Grobo, and Iron Ox, among others, have been investing in hydroponics methods.

Agricultural Water Consumption by the Numbers

For human consumption, there’s only less than a teaspoon available to us if we condense all the water on earth into a pitcher. Water resources are finite,  yet, we allocate 70% of it to agriculture and farming. Globally, the agricultural land equipped with an irrigation system is over 330 million hectares. While irrigated agricultural land constitutes only 20% of the world’s total cultivated land, it contributes as much as 40% of the total food production worldwide. Clearly, water and irrigation play a significant role in food security.

Naturally, a growing population entails an increase in food production. Historically, agricultural water allocation increased three-fold in the last 50 years. By 2050, experts predict the raising of farming water allocation between 25 to 40%. This is especially true in regions with high stress such as the Middle East, Africa and parts of South America.

Hydroponic Methods for Water-Smart Farming

Hydroponic methods use a fraction of the water consumption compared to traditional farming. In its most efficient form, hydroponic methods aid in water conservation by using 10% of soil farming water requirement. Similarly, with the nutritional uptake occurring directly and efficiently in the rhizosphere, fertilizer use is lower by 40%. Moreover, since crop can grow twice as fast and farmers can plant up to four times as many crops in the same space compared to traditional farming, hydroponic methods allow more crop yield. There are many variations of hydroponic methods available in the industry, but there are only six basic types – Wick, Water Culture, Ebb and Flow, Drip, Nutrient Film Technique, and Aeroponic.

The Wick system is the simplest of the hydroponic methods. The reservoir draws nutrient solution with a wick into the growing tray. The Water Culture is the most inexpensive active hydroponic system, with Styrofoam floating directly on a nutrient solution. The Ebb and Flow System works by submerging the grow tray with nutrient solution and then drawing off the solution back into the tank.

The Drip system is probably the widely used type amongst all the hydroponic methods. With this method, a pump is set to drip nutrient solution onto the base of each plant. The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system has a constant stream of nutrient solution that flows over the roots of the plants. The Aeroponic is the most technologically-advanced among all the hydroponic methods. There is a need to expose the roots to the air and mist it with the nutrient solution every few minutes.

Companies Using Hydroponic Methods

Farming using hydroponic methods certainly offers many benefits. It’s not surprising that many businesses ventures are banking on the benefits of hydroponic farming.

  • Grobo, the do-it-all grow box lets you grow food at the comfort of your own home. The design is for every type of food grower. Grobo founder and CEO Bjorn Dawson share that the box is suitable to grow a range of crops including kale, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, and herbs.
  • Urban Farmers Pro – a social startup based in Boston, Massachusetts, is co-founded by Klaus Hergett and Daniel Ramirez. The founders realize that cities can be food deserts where people living in crowded spaces do not have access to fresh and healthy food. Using a hydroponic technology called VIOS, city dwellers and urban natives can now grow their food even with limited space.
  • Iron Ox was founded in 2015 by Brandon Alexander and Jon Binney. Using hydroponics and robotics, Iron Ox aims to increase better produce for everyone using fewer resources.
  • The Homestead Hydroponic Farm is a boutique hydroponic farm, producing vegetables that are unusual, fresh, taste great, and keep well. The Homestead Hydroponic Farm has always been faithful to its goal: to focus on sustainable growing, water conservation, environmental consciousness, time/ space efficiency, consistent quality crops with better shelf life, and natural pest control.
  • Cloudponics founders Nicolas Ruiz and Pepijn van der Krogt mission in setting up Cloudponics is to allow everyday people to grow healthy plants without time constraints. Using cloud technology, growers can plant, using hydroponic methods within the comforts of their home and monitor their plant using the Cloudponics app.

Water Conservation as a Global Issue

Thankfully, most people have access to fresh water by just turning on the tap. However, billions of people have no access to clean water and sanitation. Additionally, 4,800 people, mostly children, perish due to water-borne diseases despite the advances in technology.

Unfortunately, with large-scale farming and industrialization, we overuse and over tap our rivers and groundwater. Evidently, modern human activities have altered the natural water renewal cycle. The ill effects of altered hydrosphere include prolonged dry seasons, drought, eutrophication, and acid rain. Ultimately, we have to remember that there is a limit to our water resources and it’s finite. Rethinking how we manage our water resources is vital for all life on earth, now and in the future.


For more on Bold Business’ indoor farming series, check out these stories on Box Greensaeroponics, and this one on vertical farming.

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