With hydroponic technology and a controlled environment greenhouse, you can 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 is not 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 diseases 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 are the highest quality possible at harvest.
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. There are several large hydroponic facilities that cover as many as 60 or more acres and produce large quantities of hydroponic produce that is shipped throughout the US to help fill the growing demand. However, 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 local marketplaces and eliminate the problems and costs of long-distance transportation.