As the world’s population grows exponentially, modern agricultural practices must focus on sustainability, to produce food while making efforts to maintain the environment. In order to produce more food for the growing population, producers have increased their use of viable agricultural lands resulting in 11% of earth being tilled for agriculture. While this number seems to be relatively low, it must be addressed that this 11% usage takes up almost all of the world’s land than can be used for crop production, due to various factors such as human development making the land unusable for growing crops (Owen, 2005). In order to combat this ever-increasing issue, alternative-farming methods must be introduced internationally.
One alternative method to traditional field-growth of crops has been shown to be very effective for centuries; this method is now called hydroponic production (Jones, 1997). Ancient Babylonian hanging gardens and Aztecan floating gardens are two examples of hydroponics from agricultural history that show the advantages of using hydroponics in an agricultural system (Jones, 1997). Hydroponic production of crops is characterized by the propagation of crops in solutions of water and nutrients; these can be used with or without the addition of a growth media to provide mechanical support to the plant’s root system (Jensen, 2007). Growing plants hydroponically provides a wide array of ecological benefits, ranging from the ability to grow plants without the need for viable cropland, to high sustainability due to extremely low emissions.
The basic advantages of growing plants in a hydroponic system are explained in Jones’ book, Hydroponics: A Practical Guide for the Soilless Grower (1997). Jones explains the three main advantages as: “crops can be grown where no suitable soil exists or where the soil is contaminated with disease,” “labor for tilling, cultivating, fumigating, watering, and other traditional practices is largely eliminated,” this advantage provides incentives for the use of a hydroponic system, but does not directly affect environmental sustainability, and “maximum yields are possible, making the system economically feasible in high-density and expensive land areas” (Jones, 1997). These three components are key to what makes hydroponic production of crops a viable choice for ecologically sustainable agriculture.
The first core advantage of hydroponic production described by Jones is that when hydroponics are paired with greenhouses or other growing environments, production can take place where no suitable soil is present; this addresses a main issue for the future of the food system and agriculture (Jones, 1997). Because most of the possible agricultural land in the world is already being used for production, (in many cases it is being overused,) efforts must be made to use alternative growing methods without expanding cropland. In most current hydroponic systems, plants are propagated in greenhouses that provide maximum efficiency in growth, also providing high accessibility for farmers and control over the growing environment (Leonhardt and McCall, 1982). Within the greenhouses many different systems of production can be utilized, these systems range from the “water culture system”, which is the most common and simple, to “aeroponic systems”, which require the highest technology (Shrestha, Dunn). The water culture system employs the basic function of the hydroponic system of production, using a floating platform that holds plants above the surface of the water. The roots are submerged within the water-solution that has an oxygen pump at the bottom of the tank; the tank supplies the roots with oxygen and other nutrients, this is categorized as an “active” production technique (Shrestha, Dunn). This method can be used at fairly large scales within a greenhouse and helps farmers to thoroughly manage nutrient availability for their plants, something that conventional farmers...
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