March 1, 2012
Fresh water may soon become a costly commodity. The fundamental social problem of feeding society is growing larger due to a rising scarcity of water and an ongoing depletion of agricultural land. Population growth, climate changes, pollution, and agricultural water waste contribute to growing fresh water shortages around the world. Depletion of soil nutrients through poor farming techniques, floods, poor irrigation, and winds have seriously damaged agricultural land. Approximately 40% of the world’s agricultural ground is unsuitable for farming. The role of agricultural business desperately needs to align with the evolving ethos of a rapidly growing society. Can hydroponic farming provide a sustainable solution to environmental problems caused by traditional farming methods? What practical applications does hydroponics have in densely populated urban areas? Farmers describe soil degradation as thinning and unproductive land that leads to low yielding crops. Land degradation includes nutrient depletion, loss of biodiversity, climate change, erosion by water, erosion by wind, reduced vegetative cover, pollution, drought, compaction by animals or machinery, sedimentation, increased soil temperatures, reduced organic matter, and salinization (Stockings, 2000 pg 5). According to the United Nation’s food and agriculture program, 854 million people do not have sufficient food for an active and healthy life (Sample, 2007). The population has increased by nearly 2 billion in the last 20 years and food production increased by 50%. It is estimated that by 2050 the population will reach 9 billion. (Sample, 2007). State and federal officials have drafted accords in attempts to rectify water shortages. UN officials have gathered to create and execute a plan of action to improve conservation of soil and restoration of degraded land, but such plans are merely band-aids on a broken limb. The ultimate form of soil conservation is eliminating the use of soil in agriculture completely. Hydroponic agriculture offers a permanent solution to this rapidly growing problem of water shortages, pollution, and land degradation. Development of hydroponic systems took place from 1925 through 1935. Experimentation with soil-less nutrient solutions and advancement in agricultural plastic by Professor Emery Myers Emmert at the University of Kentucky sparked an interest in hydroponic food production. Efforts were primarily aimed at large scale commercial food growth, but Hydroponic food systems were eventually abandoned due to high construction and operation costs (University of Arizona). Modern hydroponic systems are relatively inexpensive to build and offer several effective methods of food production. The most popular commercial agriculture hydroponic system is the Nutrient Film Technique. NFT consist of a plastic pipe or gutter, a water reservoir, and a water pump. A thin film of nutrient infused water constantly flows through the tubing. Plant roots are suspended over the piping with only the roots touching the stream of nutrient water. The pipe or gutter is slightly elevated at the far end to allow water to drain back into the water reservoir. The NFT system delivers high levels of oxygen to the roots promoting vigorous plant growth. NFT systems are ideal for leafy greens such as lettuce, cabbage and basil but are effective for a multitude of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. A minimal operating cost makes this system ideal for commercial applications. [pic] [pic]
A popular system for larger plants is the ebb and flow or flood and drain system. This table system consists of a plastic tray, water pump, timer, reservoir, and tubing. The plants lay on the top table separate from the nutrient reservoir. The pump is programmed to turn on in 15 minute...