May 14th Posted In Alternative Farming

Looking into the future of Horticulture: Hydroponics

Since Hadlow College’s Vision50 campaign is reaching into the future of horticulture, what better than to draw attention to one of the most technologically developed farming methods? Hydroponics is a branch of hydroculture, the cultivation of food crops without the conventional use of soil. The method is expected to grow exponentially over the next few decades to meet ever-expanding demands on global food production and supply. Hadlow College is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a leading higher education organisation; therefore it is a great opportunity to shine the limelight on one of modern farming’s innovative blessings.

So what is a hydroponic process? Plants are grown hydroponically in many different ways depending on the scale of the development and the crop demand. The most common growing methods involve the use of aggregates or the use of water. Aggregates, including perlite, act as a method of anchorage and allow uptake of nutrients. The aggregates act as a support to the root in acquiring the relevant nutrients needed.

A water system, such as the cost-efficient Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), uses a reservoir and pump system, whereby plants sit side-by-side with their roots exposed to water flowing at the bottom of a large trough. The trough lies at an angle to ensure water circulates from the trough to the reservoir which is then recycled via a UV cleaning system. The nutrient-rich water is then pumped up again. These are just a couple of examples of the many hydroponic systems used to grow crops on a variety of scales.

Now a clearer image of a hydroponic set-up has been established, attention can be turned to its benefits, including its important role in the future of farming. For one, hydroponic technology has a multitude of positives; offering complete growth flexibility that is drastically changing the way we grow and supply food. Growers produce food crops much closer to the end supplier, shortening the supply chain and eliminating transportation costs and packaging, which in themselves cause harmful CO2 emissions and the build-up of plastic waste. Moreover, growers have a firmer grasp on their crop cycle routine, ensuring that plants can be grown in the same area for a longer period of time, lowering the chances of crop-loss through waste or disease.

Sustainability is a key debate in the future of farming. Hydroponic technology fits neatly into this frame, as systems assure energy and water efficiency and reduce carbon footprint. Alan Harvey, Acting Head of Faculty: Horticulture at Hadlow College, says: “Crops are grown in small, urban spaces where industrial buildings can adopt a vertical growing system to maximise space. Even kitchens both in restaurants and homes can have smaller hydroponic set-ups, allowing chefs to grow their own produce. As long as electricity and water are available and the correct expertise, hydroponics work in any location – even disused underground stations and World War II bunkers.”

“In terms of the future of hydroponics, we need to focus on increasing the yield without compromising the quality or growth rate. A greater range of high value crops will probably be grown on hydroponic sites in the UK reducing the need for imports.”

With Brexit becoming more of a reality, a UK farming market identity is timely. Hydroponics could lead to a secure investment for the future. Hadlow College is proud to offer hydroponic courses to catapult farming into the future, especially as hydroponics is an innovative system promising versatility and sustainability. Whilst the systems take much skill and expertise both in terms of growing crops and environmental control, it is undoubtedly a pioneering method set for rapid development as farming’s future evolves.