CLA South West Regional Surveyor, Will Langer, provides an insight on hydroponic systems and whether members should consider these methods.
As the global population ever increases, so do the pressures on farmers to grow enough food to match it. This has led to a rise in development of various methods of agriculture including hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. So, what are these methods?
Hydroponics - Perhaps the most widely known, hydroponics is the process of growing plants using a water-based system without the need for soil. Instead, the roots of the plants are exposed to nutrient rich water solutions which the plant feeds off. Common plants that are grown include peppers, lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes and many other leafy greens and vegetables.
Aquaponics - Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics, where media beds are filled with water containing fish waste. This provides the much-needed organic food source for plant growth, replacing manufactured fertilisers used in hydroponic systems. Common plants that are grown include pak-choi, peppers, lemongrass, lettuces and many other leafy greens. This system also enables another income stream with the sale of fish.
Aeroponics - Unlike the other two systems where the roots of the plants are submerged in water, aeroponic farms suspend the plants. A nutrient rich solution is then sprayed over the roots in a mist. This method is understood to use a fraction of the water that is required for conventional agriculture. The major drawback of the system is the complexities and maintenance of set up and operation. Many leafy greens, fruit and vegetables can be grown in this system.
Should you be considering any of these methods?
It is worth noting at this stage that these systems are not going to be taking over from the horticultural and arable sectors anytime soon. For one thing, the systems can be fairly costly to set up as they require infrastructure and continuous maintenance and care. For another, agriculture is still at the core of planning policy, with unnecessary development over land being carefully considered so as not to build in open countryside.
This being said, the systems are worth considering as alternative enterprises. Some members may find that they have buildings and barns that could house these schemes and provide an additional income. There may be some planning considerations that would need to be checked, and it is worth speaking to your regional CLA office for further advice on the matter.