With hydroponic technology and a controlled environment greenhouse, you have the ability to grow premium quality produce using a minimum of space, water and fertilizer. Hydroponics is an intensive form of agriculture that can fulfill the consumers demand for premium produce and provide the grower with a profitable business. Hydroponics literally means “water working” but, in practical use, it means growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil. The science of hydroponics proves that soil isn’t required for plant growth but the elements, minerals and nutrients that soil contains are. Soil is simply the holder of the nutrients, a place where the plant roots traditionally live and a base of support for the plant structure. By eliminating the soil, you eliminate soil borne disease and weeds and gain precise control over the plant’s nutritional diet. In a hydroponic solution, you provide the exact nutrients your plants need in precisely the correct ratios so they can develop stress-free, mature faster and, at harvest, are the highest quality possible.
In commercial production, the three primary growing methods are drip (includes the Dutch bucket system), NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) and the raft (also known as float) system. The biggest difference between the drip, NFT and raft systems is the use of a growing medium. In a drip system, the plant roots are in a growing medium such as perlite or rockwool and the nutrient solution is dripped onto the medium to keep it moist. In an NFT system, the plant roots are in a channel where a thin film of nutrient solution passes, keeping them moist but not water-logged. In the raft system, the plants are floated on a raft that rests on the surface of the water. The plant roots dangle into the water where they get nutrients and oxygen.
There are hydroponic growers throughout the United States and worldwide. Of over 50,000 acres in hydroponic production around the world, about 1200 of those are in the US. Most of the hydroponic facilities in the US are family or small business operations that cover 1/8 – 1 acre, produce premium hydroponic produce and sell it locally. The smaller operations generally have the advantage of offering vine ripened, locally grown produce with minimal transportation cost and damage. It is in this niche, offering premium produce to a local marketplace, that a hydroponic grower with less than an acre in production can earn an excellent profit. Smaller growers can establish themselves near the marketplace, eliminating the problems and costs of long-distance transportation.
In addition to the smaller growers in the US, there are several large hydroponic facilities that cover as many as 60 or more acres and produce large quantities of hydroponic tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce. Often this produce is shipped throughout the US to help fill the growing demand for hydroponic produce. Currently there are jumbo jets, trains and trucks that bring hydroponic produce daily into the United States from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Canada. Both US and Internationally grown hydroponic produce that suffers the rough handling of long-distance transportation is usually of a lesser quality and sells for a lower price that that of a smaller hydroponic farmer who caters to specialty stores and farmers markets near to their operation.