According to an article by National Geographic News, food production takes up nearly half of the Earth’s surface and an area roughly the size of South America is used for crop production alone (Owen, 2005). Imagine the demands that this large scale food production puts on our planet. According to the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, Agricultural practices are the number one source of water quality impairment in the united states effecting lakes, rivers, estuaries, and coastal waters (Ongley, 1996). Runoff of excess fertilizers that aren’t taken up by plants can cause problems both to the environment and our health. “The potential health effects of high nitrate levels are diverse, including reproductive problems (Kramer et al.1996), methemoglobinemia, and cancer. Infants are especially at risk for methemoglobinemia (“blue-baby” syndrome)…” (Townend, Horarth, and Bazzaz, 2003).
Hydroponic agriculture, which is the growing of plants without soil, is another means of producing food. With land becoming more valuable as time goes by and as harmful pesticides and fertilizers are leached into our water, hydroponic crop production is a viable alternative to traditional farming,
Hydroponics began with the use of “greenhouse like” systems which have been in use for at least 2,000 years. As early as the first century, the earliest greenhouse production began in the Roman Empire where, in the off season, cucumbers were grown under “transparent stone” to shelter plants from temperate weather (ag.arizona.edu, 2000) After this period, this or similar practices were not known to be used until about 1500 years later when, in the 1600’s, several techniques were used to protect crops such as glass lanterns and bell jars (ag.arizona.edu, 2000).
In the seventeenth century, wooden frames were covered with an oiled translucent paper and used to warm and protect crops (ag.arizona.edu, 2000). During the same time in France and England, greenhouses were warmed with decomposing manure and covered with glass panes (ag.arizona.edu, 2000). In the 1700’s, the first greenhouse made from glass was built (ag.arizona.edu, 2000). Before 1925, greenhouses used soils which had to be replaced often and had to be maintained every year by adding large amounts of fertilizer. Because of this, interests in developing lower maintenance nutrient solutions were sparked (ag.arizona.edu, 2000).
Between 1925 and 1935, development of methods for large scale crop production took place including, the use of water and sand which improved even more with the development of the sub irrigation system in 1934 (ag.arizona.edu, 2000). Interests in these systems were short-lived however, because of the high costs related to the construction of concrete growing beds (ag.arizona.edu, 2000). Interest was renewed again 20 years later with the development of commercial plastics which could be used as lining for beds instead of concrete (ag.arizona.edu, 2000). In the 1970’s, the increased energy costs and decreased chemicals being used for pesticides led to many bankruptcies and interest in soilless agriculture was again lost for another 20 years when interest resumed and the soilless agriculture industry known as hydroponics has been growing ever since (ag.arizona.edu, 2000).
Present Hydroponic Crop Production
In 1999 the US had about 324 hectares of greenhouse production (Dodson, Bachmann, and Williams, 2002). In 2009, there were 400,000 hectares of greenhouse production worldwide (83 countries), 35,000 of which was hydroponic production. Major crops of greenhouse production include: tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet peppers, culinary herbs, and eggplants (Hickman, 2010).
Benefits and Disadvantages
There are many benefits of hydroponic agriculture both to the environment and to the farmers’ bottom line. First and...