Hydroponics is a 17th-century creation but seems as if it’s only a 21st-century novelty. Why is it that hydroponics has not reached mainstream acceptance even after centuries of development and use?
The 5 reasons why hydroponics is not popular are: 1) the lack of organic certification; 2) the complexity of hydroponics; 3) high initial startup cost; 4) lack of awareness and accessible technical knowledge; and 5) higher continuous maintenance and observation.
Failure to be certified as “Organic” for the mere fact they are not grown in soil is not only a travesty but an injustice. Other factors heavily contribute to the lack of acceptance on a cultivation technique that offers many extraordinary benefits.
The primary reason why hydroponics is not popular in the commercial space is because many countries and territories do not consider soilless farming as “Organic” hence they cannot be labelled as such.
Given the premium given to products marked “Organic” to consumers and producers alike, the certification holds great weight in the perception of the public. There’s this misinformation among the general population that just because it’s not organic it automatically means that it’s unhealthy, unsafe, or even dangerous for consumption.
Opposition against hydroponics often use the “soylent green” analogy to describe hydroponics’ use of chemical fertilizers.
There’s a significant amount of negativity surrounding hydroponics because it is not certified as “Organic” by the USDA under the Organic Food Production of 1990 (OFPA).
Current USDA standards require that plants be grown in soil to be certified as “Organic.” Despite pleas and contemporary views that the soil requirement be dispensed with, there’s staunch opposition by soil cultivators to prevent hydroponics from being classified as Organic.
Due to this, only a few hydroponics growers have compromised. By using organic fertilizers and incorporating soil into their systems, they barely qualify over the certification standards. However, the problem with this compromise is that growers produce lower yields and slower growth than with standard hydroponic techniques.
The trend continues in other countries such as Canada which has a similar prohibition towards hydroponics and aeroponics under the reasoning that the same fails to meet the minimum soil requirement.
More recently in 2021, a revision of the European Union’s organic law, prohibits the certification of hydroponically-grown as certified. The rationale is that they are not grown in soil.
The primary reason why hydroponics is not popular in the domestic or hobby space is because it’s more involved and more complicated than traditional cultivation.
With traditional cultivation, you stick the seed or plant into the ground and it’s more or less a done process. It will only need occasional watering and some fertilizer here and there.
With hydroponics, it is a significantly more complex process. One needs to think about seeding and replanting into net pots, the EC level, the pH level, the water reservoir temperature, the nutrient balance in the nutrient reservoir, the air pumps, the optional grow lamps, and so on.
This initial complexity of different factors which interplay with one another is enough to deter most people from trying it out, seeing it more as a complicated novelty rather than a future-thinking innovation.
The initial high start-up cost will deter most people from hydroponics. One needs to procure grow trays, growing mediums, PVC pipes, reservoirs, chemical nutrients or pre-made nutrient solutions, air pumps, and measurement tools to start up your hydroponics systems.
Even at the start, this is a numerous amount of items required for a single hydroponics system. While systems can be modular, which allows a small system to grow larger, it does not take away the fact that increased complexity entails more moving parts which have to be considered.
Compared to soil cultivation which at best requires water, seeds, and soil to grow plants initially, hydroponics is, again, more involved and requires more parts to effectively function.
However, there are ways to reduce the startup cost such as using alternatives to rockwool. The use of plastic components in a hydroponics system such as PVC pipes have no adverse effects provided when the proper type is used.
Provided that one overcomes the hurdle of setting up a hydroponics system, the next hurdle is finding information on how to maintain and operate the system. There is a general lack of awareness of what hydroponics is and this contributes to the scarcity of the available knowledge regarding the field.
Most in-depth information regarding hydroponics such as growing methods, best practices, and technical nutrient knowledge can be found in forums, groups, and scientific journals. There is a keen lack of well-known experts whose opinions are widely accepted or respected
Apart from the lack of “canonical” sources, every system is different and unique hence there is a diverse array of opinions and niche techniques from different growers which may or may not have merit.
As such, hydroponics growing is a scientific process of trial and error until one finds what works for them. This might not be for everyone.
Reiterating the previous points, in soil cultivation the process more or less starts and ends with sticking the seed or plant into the soil and waiting for it to grow.
Hydroponics requires higher continuous observation and maintenance to ensure that the optimal conditions for plant growth are insured. This includes but is not limited to checking the EC level, the pH level, the nutrient balance, the water temperature, the level of dissolved oxygen, root aeration, and so on. This is not the case for more common soil-based cultivation.
The necessary air and water pumps require constant electricity to keep operating to provide water and dissolved oxygen. The optional implementation of grow lamps are there to
The nutrient balance in the water is an exceptionally important consideration since it dictates the survival of the plant. It is imperative that the plants have the adequate amount of
This higher standard of diligence required may turn off some growers because it may be too stressful, making the fulfilling hobby of cultivation more like a high stakes activity.
For all the hassle in starting and operating, hydroponics provides some extraordinary benefits not found in soil-based cultivation.
The trade off for this significantly more involved process is that plants grow faster, healthier, and pest-free in hydroponics systems compared to soil-based systems all while being more nutritious.
The essential micro and macronutrients are supplied to the plants in a sterile condition, without the pathogens and harmful organisms found in soil. All water and nutrients are dedicated to the growing plant.
There is little to no pesticide and herbicide use, especially in indoor growing, because the growing conditions are controlled to prevent the presence of external factors such as pests, harmful microorganisms.
Less water is used because the water is recirculated in the system. According to the National Park Service, hydroponics uses 10x less water than soil cultivation.
Less space is required to grow plants hydroponically. Even better is that rows of plants can be grown stacked on top of each other which further increases space efficiency and yield.
Finally, several studies from different scientific journals such as Postharvest Biology and Technology, Acta Horticulturae, and Pesq. Agropec. Trop., Goiânia have proven that hydroponically-grown crops are indeed more nutritious than their soil-based counterparts without any difference to the taste, colour, or physical properties of the crop. They are likewise safe for consumption.
The contention that hydroponics should not be considered “Organic” for the mere fact that soil is not required and that chemical fertilizers are used is baseless and contrary to the goal of the Organic Food Act of 1990 which prevents soil deterioration by way of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
Hydroponics meets the aim of the law by removing the soil in the equation entirely. Soil deterioration is prevented by not using soil. Apart from preventing deterioration, hydroponics also uses less water which is an important ecological consideration given increasing food demands to meet the needs of a higher global population.
The soylent green analogy has no bearing since what is provided to the plants are simply the macro and micronutrients necessary even for soil cultivation except they are in a form which simply looks foreign to the common viewer. We know what is being put in the plants and they are nothing more than what the plant needs.
- The primary reason why hydroponics is not popular in the commercial space is because it does not qualify under the “Organic” label which has a soil requirement.
- The primary reason why hydroponics is not popular in the domestic or hobby space is because it is significantly more complex and involved compared to soil cultivation.
- Hydroponics has been proven to be environmentally friendly while still producing healthy and nutritious plants. The need for herbicides and pesticides are also dispensed.
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- “The Fight for Organic: Hydroponic Certification Under Fire” by n/a in National Agricultural Law Center
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- “Yield and quality of tomato grown in a hydroponic system, with different planting densities and number of bunches per plant” by Cardoso et al in Pesq. Agropec. Trop., Goiânia (48) 4