What exactly is the issue? What are the advantages of hydroponic farming?
Our current agricultural system is up to the challenge. By 2050, food production would need to expand by nearly 70% to fulfill the caloric needs of a global population of 9.8 billion people, with 68 percent of them expected to reside in cities. We would be nowhere close to achieving this increased level by 2050 if we projected linear yield growth from our agricultural output during the previous five decades.
Traditional agriculture consumes enormous amounts of resources. With most crop production having reached its genetic and chemical limits (large increases in fertilizer or pesticide use will not suffice to boost yields), intensification and the expansion of agricultural areas have been viewed as the only realistic choices for meeting rising food demands. Agricultural production consumes 70% of the world’s water, mostly due to unsustainable irrigation practices. Food is grown on 38% of the world’s non-frozen land at the moment. This percentage will continue to rise: if current trends continue, 593 million hectares of land will need to be converted to agricultural land by 2050 to meet the predicted calorie needs of the global population. This required land is about twice the size of India. This perspective puts many vital ecosystems at risk of extinction, particularly those critical to maintaining the already disturbed carbon dioxide equilibrium in our atmosphere.
Rainforests, which control the biosphere and contain the bulk of the world’s biodiversity, are quickly converted into monocultures for industrial agriculture. Deforestation is a major contributor to global biodiversity loss and anthropogenic carbon emissions. According to the WWF, we have already lost 52 percent of our world’s vertebrate biodiversity owing to our exploitation of the planet’s resources. Deforestation was discovered to be the second greatest source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, trailing only fossil fuel combustion. This extensive degradation of critical ecosystems, which has resulted in severe biodiversity loss and disruption of ecosystem services, must stop. Climate change also threatens agricultural production by causing drier climates in already dry areas and wetter climates in already wet areas, among other effects. Food insecurity in arid regions around the world will only intensify due to these effects. While clearing land for agricultural production is justified to meet the world’s dietary demands, there are significant social and environmental consequences.
As evidenced by the rapid evolution of the new Coronavirus, these tradeoffs are already profoundly altering the social fabric of our life (COVID-19). The COVID-19 epidemic has raised our awareness of the dangers of increasing our interaction with previously undisturbed wildlife. The necessity for more agricultural land to support our rising human population is driving this intrusion into the natural world. The probability of more infectious zoonotic diseases appearing in our lifetime will rise as the formation of ecotones between wildlife and our farmed fields increases. If nothing is done to reverse our existing agricultural trajectory, additional cases of mass infection and destruction by zoonotic diseases will inevitably occur.
This list of reasons we need to discover alternatives to our current agricultural system to fulfill rising food demand is far from complete. Hydroponic farming provides a viable solution to many of the world’s current agricultural issues.
What is hydroponic farming, and how does it work?
The production of plants in a controlled environment (also known as weather and climate-proof farming, or more popularly indoor vertical farming) is known as controlled environment agriculture. While indoor farming is not a new concept (greenhouses have been used for centuries), hydroponic farming is a more modern innovation that streamlines the growth process by removing all extraneous components of traditional farming. We can recollect the essential ingredients of plant growth like energy, nutrients, water, and CO2 if we recall the mechanism of photosynthesis from middle school biology class. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) follows this basic formula and eliminates any extraneous inputs, such as soil and pesticides, that have become crucial to our current agriculture system. Standard features of traditional farming are replaced with artificial ones in the CEA process. Plants receive energy from LED lighting that is tuned particularly to the energy needs of the plants rather than from the sun. Seeds are sown in soil-free growth media such as coconut husk instead of soil to provide seedlings with a surface to attach their roots to it. This soilless method reduces the chance of bugs and weeds invading the growing environment, resulting in a much cleaner and simpler operation. In a vertical racking system, these seedlings are occasionally placed in growth trays piled vertically rather than outwards. Vertical plant integration helps farmers optimize the total space consumption of their growing area, allowing them to cut land use by up to 90% while increasing production. Plant roots in vertical farms are provided critical nutrients either hydroponically (nutrient-infused water is fed to the plant roots in a growth medium) or aeroponically (nutrient-infused water is misted on the plant roots that dangle freely).