Around 11 percent of the world’s surface is being used in crop production (Crop Production and Natural Resource Use, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). With more land being used for crops, the amount of land available for forests and animals are quickly dwindling. This poses a significant problem: how are we to expand while still keeping the earth healthy? Current farming methods are causing earth’s soil to degrade rapidly and prevent the soil from being able to support many types of vegetation.
The destruction of forests has gotten so bad that it may become impossible to replace them. Often, people in developing nations turn to farming in forests as their only way to survive. However, this causes long-term effects and even some short-term effects that affect everyone on the planet. Hydroponics can provide a solution to growing crops without invading anymore of the earth’s land.
Not only will hydroponics help provide a solution to not using any more of earth’s land, but it will also help with the current issue of global warming. Agriculture has been one of the major sources of increasing greenhouse gases emissions. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2014 agriculture contributed 10% of total greenhouse emissions in the U.S. This is mostly due to fertilizers that include nitric oxide.
Along with contributing to greenhouse gases, agriculture has also lead to deforestation. Around 75% of global deforestation comes from agriculture (Flipping the issue: agriculture contributes to climate change?, 2016). The majority of deforestation can come from developing nations. This can be because as people try to survive, they cut down trees to be able to farm on the land that the trees had taken up. Other developed nations use wood as charcoal for a fuel source. Deforestation then leads to a loss of biodiversity and for earth’s overall health to suffer.
Homes of various different species that are housed in forests find themselves displaced and nowhere to go. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are released into the environment, so without them there are more emissions released into the atmosphere. Trees also help prevent soil erosion, reduce water pollution, provide shade, provide food, and help reduce the energy needed to provide cooling (Tree People). Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without soil. Instead of soil, plants are grown in a growing medium; these growing media are materials other than soil. Growing media are materials that plants are able to grow in. Different types of growing mediums include perlite, sand, rockwool, coconut fibers, and gravel.
Similar to how regular plants are grown, in hydroponics, water is being delivered to the plants through their roots. However, instead of the roots of plants being covered in soil, roots often hang directly in the nutriment solution. The purpose of the growing medium is to transfer the nutrients that are added into the water in order to keep the roots oxygenated. The roots of the plants come into contact with the nutrients in the water for their growth. As hydroponics are usually used when plants are grown indoors, the growers take full control of the environment of the plants, such as temperature, lighting, and ventilation.
Greenhouses are another way to grow plants with control, but they are not a method. Instead they are structures made out of plastic or glass and a minimal metal or wooden frame. It can also have a ventilation system to help control the temperature if it gets too hot or too cold and plants that are sensitive or out-of-season are usually grown here (Greenhouse, Britanica). Therefore there can exist many different types of greenhouses. There are ones that involve traditional soil and there also others that involve hydroponics.
Greenhouses that use traditional soil tend to use natural light from the sun and are more spread out. They tend to face the same problems that regular agriculture faces. Roots from plants still spread out and don’t allow for them to be packed as tight as they could be using hydroponics.
There are six different types of hydroponics: Wick Systems, Deep Water Culture (DWC), Nutrient Film Techniques (NFT), Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain), Aeroponics, and Drip Systems (Green and Vibrant). The Wick System is the simplest type of hydroponic system. It works by pumping the nutrient solution from the reservoir up to the plants via a capillary movement. Deep Water Culture is an active recovery hydroponic system. It works by hanging a pot with plants held by a floating Styrofoam platform so that the roots are able to be submerged in the nutrient solutions. The Nutrient Film Technique works by continuously flowing nutrient solutions onto the grow tray. The solutions run through the roots systems of the plants until it reaches the end of the channel, then it drains back into the reservoir.
This technique doesn’t require any growing medium. Ebb and Flow works by using a timer to set the pump to pull nutrients from the reservoir to the grow tray periodically. After the nutrients surround the plants’ roots, it drains back into the system. In Drip Systems, growers use a timer to set the pump to draw the nutrient solutions through a network of drip lines. These drip lines drop tiny amounts of water onto the plants. Aeroponics is the most high-tech system. There is no growing medium used because plants are hung in the air.
A timer controls the nutrient water pump to spray onto the root systems constantly. There are many benefits to the practice of hydroponics. One major advantage is that hydroponics yields a much better growth rate for plants.
Hydroponic growers are able to manipulate the whole environment to accelerate the plants’ growth. Growers control important factors, such as temperature, lighting, moisture, and nutrients. This can provide the ideal conditions that plants require. It can also allow for people to grow crops year round even in conditions that aren’t ideal. When plants are grown in soil, there are different variables that can affect the growth rate of plants. There could be droughts or floods that can kill off all of the crop yields.
When the weather changes suddenly, farmers can experience great losses. With hydroponics, growers utilize hydroponic fertilizers that provide the essential nutrients needed for the plants to grow. The nutrients come into direct contact with the root system so plants don’t need to waste energy searching for diluted nutrients in the soil.
Instead, plants can focus all their energy on their growth along with producing fruits and flowers. Grown in similar conditions, hydroponic grown plants can have a 20-30% better growth rate than those grown in soil (Green and Vibrant). This is because a perfect blend of nutrients can be created with hydroponics. Also, the plant doesn’t need to develop an extensive root system as it doesn’t need to waste time searching for nutrients. Instead, the plant focuses all its energy on growing upwards, leading to a faster growth rate than plants grown in soil.
A second advantage of hydroponics is that no soils are needed, allowing for better use of space and location. Crops are able to be grown anywhere even if it has arid soil or is heavily contaminated. It allows plants to be grown in convenient places, like large-scale indoor greenhouses, while saving lands for better use. Unlike how plants roots tend to expand in search of nutrients in the soil, in hydroponics, the roots of plants are submerged in a tank full of oxygenated nutrient solution and in direct contact with vital minerals. As a result, plants are able to be grown in close proximities, saving large amounts of space.
In addition, since plants reduce a significant amount of space by not using soil, plants can reduce even more space by growing them vertically. A vertical garden grows upward using support structures, rather than grow horizontally on the ground. Hydroponic vertical gardens are able to save an immense amount of both space and water by growing vertically and recirculating the water. People no longer need to look for the perfect soil conditions in order to grow their crops. The quality of soil would not limit where, when, and what could be grown.
In addition, the lack of soil eliminates the presence of weeds and allows for fewer pests and diseases. It also eliminates the use of pesticides, providing a healthier environment and cleaner foods. Less greenhouse gases from pesticides are emitted into the atmosphere from hydroponics when compared to traditional farming. Furthermore, plants can be grown locally ensuring that more people have access to a diverse amount of crops. Food deserts, urban areas where people have little or no easy access to nutritious food, would decrease and people would have a secure access to a variety amount of vegetables.
Since plants are flown over to various parts of the country, emissions would also be cut down from airplanes. A third advantage of hydroponics is that it allows for the conservation of water. Agriculture consumes around 80% of the freshwater in the United States (Green and Vibrant). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food production is predicted to increase by approximately 70% when the population greatly expands. With the high usage of water currently, this will lead to a lack of available water in the future for large-scale food production. Hydroponics is a viable solution to this issue. Plants grown hydroponically use only 10% of the water compared to plants grown in fields of soil due to its efficient recirculation system (Green and Vibrant). With water being recirculated, plants take up the necessary amount of water, while the run-offs are captured and returned to the system.
Water loss mainly occurs from either evaporation or leaks from the system. By using hydroponics, it will effectively minimize the amount of water loss and prevent any leaks. Hydroponics may pose a few difficulties to get started.
With all the necessary materials for the type of farm wanted, costs are sure to build up. However, this could be combated with the help of government incentives. The government could help farmers turn their cropland into buildings where water can be used to grow crops instead. Today there are grants and loans available for people to start building their own hydroponic systems. Additionally, larger companies can rent out material and put a system in place to help farmers get started on the new system.
This would eventually lead to a reduced use of soil. But contrary to what people believe, not planting crops will not negatively affect the soil. Instead, soil will have a break from which it could recover.
Instead of crops growing in the soil, the soil could have forests planted in them. There would also be less soil erosion that occurs in traditional farms. Buildings for hydroponics would be made mainly in areas where the soil is not fertile and arid to not destroy anymore land but they could also be built anywhere. In other areas, plants and animals would be introduced to make soil become nutrient rich again. These areas would be dedicated to helping the earth regain its forests and promote biodiversity.Hydroponics would allow for people to make better use of the earth’s land along with saving a large amount of space. This process allows for plants to grow more, growing plants wouldn’t be limited by the conditions of the soil, and water is able to go directly to the roots of the plants and not be absorbed by soil.
Crops are planted in areas where there are limited areas or where there aren’t ideal growing conditions like in developing countries. Although costly, hydroponics will be able to give a solution for dealing with limited land. The government and other business are also starting to provide grants and loans for people to start using hydroponic systems. Less developed countries can also implement hydroponics in order to limit deforestation where there is rich biodiversity. In addition, it could provide a way to limit food deserts and make nutritious food more available for everyone. Carbon emissions from agriculture would decrease so that the effect of growing crops would be able to be better managed.
Eventually, hydroponics could allow for soil to regain nutrients and become healthier again.