Hydroponics: improved technology, less labour

Farming does not have to be backbreaking, dirty and boring. The utilization of technology could make farming a thought-provoking and financially rewarding venture. In fact, technological advancements in the agricultural sector have helped farmers to increase productivity, despite the adverse effects of climate change on the environment.

What is Hydroponics?

One such technology is Hydroponics- a technique used to grow plants in water. This technology allows the roots to absorb a balanced nutrient solution dissolved in water that satisfies the developmental requirements of plants.

While, this farming technique is a popular choice of students for Science exhibitions, it is not common among local farmers. However, the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) wants to take this technology to farmers, particularly those operating on the coastland, where it is susceptible to flooding.

In April 2015, a hydroponics facility was established at NAREI, Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara under the Organization of American States’ project: Organic, Hydroponic and Hybrid-System Growing for Caribbean Schools and Modeling for Local Caribbean Entrepreneurship Project.

NAREI is currently engaged in two projects aimed at determining the economic viability of leafy vegetable and fruit type vegetable productions using hydroponics in shaded condition. Lettuce was one of the green leafy vegetables selected to conduct the study. It was observed that it took about 3½ weeks to produce lettuce using hydroponics- one and half weeks less than it would have taken to grow lettuce in soil. This is owing to the nutrient solutions presence in the system.

Recycling Method Hydroponics

NAREI is currently using the recycling method, which involves the continuous flow of nutrient solutions through the system. The system is powered by a submerged pump. It is housed in a 50ft by 24ft wooden structure, with concrete fill base. A shade net is placed around the structure to deter the presence of insect pest.

The system being used to grow the leafy vegetable comprises eight 40-foot 2” PVC pipelines with 49 holes per pipeline with a one in 40 slope. It has a maximum capacity of holding 392 seedlings. Meanwhile, the system used to grow fruit type vegetables comprises three 40-foot PVC pipelines with 18 holes per pipeline with a one in 40 slope. The system has a maximum capacity of holding 54 seedlings.

Advantages of Hydroponics

The advantages of hydroponics include the possibility of obtaining more produce in less time than that of traditional agriculture cultivation of the same species, repeatedly since there is no soil depletion and the elimination of soil borne pest and diseases.

Additionally, hydroponics facilitates higher planting densities, efficient use of water and nutrients, and no weeding is needed. Minimal labour is required, hence saving the farmer time and money.

After harvesting, the nutrient rich water used in the system could be used to water crops planted in the soil. It is advisable not use reuse this water to grow another crop in the system since each plant requires different amount of nutrients. However, if the farmer wants to reuse the water a nutrient analysis should be done.