Population Growth and Pressure on Global Food Production
Just over 40 years ago the global population was around 3 billion, today we will soon exceed the 7 billion mark. This increase in population however has not been equalled by the growth of cropland; in 1960 this was around half a hectare per capita, today it is less than a quarter, placing huge amounts of pressure on global food production.
As the amount of cropland at our disposal is a finite resource, the way in which we use this land has now come under greater scrutiny, with smarter, more efficient agricultural methods being investigated. One of these methods is hydroponics, the process of growing plants in water, not soil and using nutrient solutions to cultivate crops.
Forging the Way with Hydroponics
Hydroponics is not a new technology, it was first investigated by Francis Bacon in the 1600s and since this time has been developed considerably. As such there are numerous projects out there that are successfully utilising hydroponic farming as a means of producing crops.
Across the world hydroponics projects are already in operation:
Living Fresh R&G Lettuce
One such project is located in Georgia, where the Edwards family run Living Fresh R&G Lettuce. The business produces lettuce for local restaurants and shops, providing an all year round supply. The business is capable of producing more than 1,000 heads of lettuce a week, and turns seedlings into fully grown lettuces in just 6 weeks. The farm is largely automated, managing the atmosphere so that growing conditions are optimised and ensuring that the nutrient levels within the solution are always suitable.
Mirak Agricultural Services
On a larger scale is Mirak Agricultural Services, the largest agricultural company in the United Arab Emirates. Mirak has transformed their region’s reliance on foreign food imports and their systems utilise 90% less water than traditional agricultural techniques. The company has now been operating for over two decades and now produces over 2,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables annually.
3 Boys Farm
Back in the USA is 3 Boys Farm, a highly sustainable farm that utilises hydroponics, renewable energy sources and a blend of old and new agricultural technologies to grow crops. The farm, based in Ruskin grows organic herbs and vegetables and has embraced sustainability at every opportunity, from the recycled steel in the greenhouse frames, to the collection of rainwater and its use within the hydroponic system. 3 Boys Farm has built a considerable niche within the local economy, with clientele raving about the freshness and quality of the organic produce.
Intelligent, Sustainable Food Production
These projects highlight the role hydroponics could have in the wider agricultural and food production industry, there are however others out there taking the sustainable nature of hydroponics even further. Some are doing this through utilising aquaponics, a mixture of hydroponics and fish farming. In aquaponics, fish waste provides the nutrients for the plants and the waste produce the food for fish, creating a looped system and an entire ecosystem.
Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor or outdoor units to large commercial units, using the same technology. The systems usually contain fresh water, but salt water systems are plausible depending on the type of aquatic animal and which plants.
Aquaponic science may still be considered to be at an early stage, relative to other sciences
Ultimately, we are now in the unenviable situation where our food production capabilities are rapidly becoming insufficient and whilst Malthusian prophecies are not productive for anyone, the time is approaching where addressing our food security is essential.
These projects do however offer hope that the agricultural industry is investigating the potential of more sustainable systems, that help to reduce demand on resources whilst maximising food production.
Mike writes regularly on sustainable agriculture, hydroponics and gardening issues, and walks 3 miles minimum each day with his two dogs.
Image courtesy of Markuso/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net