My previous article on this blog discussed why vertical farming, or Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), is the next step in the evolution of agricultural practices and technology in order to feed the world’s growing population. Some of you, myself included may wonder whether or not food grown using CEA has a comparable nutritional value to the food grown in soil. Research, done by myself and many others indicates that produce grown using CEA techniques has an equal nutritional value, and in some cases an advantage over the techniques being applied in fields today. Here are some of the differences between soil and hydroponic methods.
Modern farming methods such as close plant spacing and the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, often cause crops to absorb fewer nutrients and have unhealthy root systems and less flavor. Nutrient cycling, crop rotation and organic growing techniques can make up for this negative trend; however, organic farming methods, use manure or cover crops to provide nutrition to crops, so food grown in soil using organic methods may have 20 percent higher nutritional content for some minerals, and 30 percent more antioxidants on average than their non-organic counterparts.
The World Watch Institute reported that even though farmers today can grow two to three times as much grain, fruit and vegetables on a plot of land as they could 50 years ago, the nutritional quality of many crops has declined. Today’s food, the article reads, produces 10 to 25 percent less iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C and other nutrients according to a variety of research studies. When growing in the ground soil must be fertile or have lots of nutrients in it. Soil must be amended, which means adding rich compost or fertilizer. If it is not properly amended there will be a lower concentration of nutrients in the soil.
When growing hydroponically, nutrients are dissolved directly into the water and allow the plant roots to receive immediate balanced nutrition at all times. In soil, microorganisms are necessary to break down soil particles into basic elements. Soil also has a lower concentration of nutrients, so roots must grow longer to search for all the required nutrients. Whereas hydroponic systems deliver the appropriate amount of nutrients directly to the root zone, allowing plants to stay smaller and more compact.
Hydroponics uses no soil. Instead, nutrients in their elemental from are added to the water and nutrients are directly absorbed by plants roots, which are usually watered several times throughout the day. Growing plants with hydroponics is fundamentally different from growing plants in soil. One is not necessarily better than the other; the location and circumstances of the grower often dictates which method to use. Hydroponics is often used for growing food in smaller spaces, because it allows us to utilize vertical space more than soil does. However, if someone has a big space with fertile soil, then using the soil may be better for that situation. In a place like Las Vegas, with no fertile soil, and a harsh natural environment; hydroponics is preferable.