Hydroponics is an environmentally friendly technology for growing any kind of plants using balanced nutrition in a scientific way. This soilless culture technology not only supplements but also complements normal soil cultivation. One hectare of hydroponics farm can produce 200-300 tonnes of vegetables per year. This is five to 10 times more than the yield of any commercially grown crop in open field.
A study undertaken by the Australian Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), shows that the commercial hydroponics industry has grown four to five fold in the last 10 years, and is currently estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000 hectares with a farm gate value of US $6 to $8 billion.
Worldwide, there are a limited number of crops grown hydroponically. Tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, capsicum and cut flowers are the most important commercial crops. However other crops such as herbs and crops for pharmaceutical use are emerging.
Some of the benefits gained by growing a commercial crop hydroponically include the following:
- Crop yields are usually slightly higher than those obtained in good soil used in the same environment;
- Faster crop turnaround can give further increases in yield;
- Water and fertiliser usage can be much lower than with most soil growing;
Hydroponics requires more skill to manage than conventional soil-based systems. According to studies in Australia, the most common challenges faced by commercial hydroponic operations include:
- Ventures not established in a realistic economic framework, including manageable loan repayments;
- System design and management being inadequate;
- Ignorance of the importance of horticultural knowledge in producing a commercial hydroponic crop;
- Underestimation of labour requirements;
- Insufficient attention to marketing and market outlets.
It has been proven in countries like Australia, Holland, Spain and Mexico that hydroponics and greenhouse production systems are water-efficient. Comparative analyses of water consumption in Australia for example show that it takes 160,000 litres of water to produce AU $100 of cotton, compared to 600 litres (best practice) of water to produce AU $100 worth of hydroponically grown produce.
There is also a significant reduction in fertiliser wastage. Using closed systems that recycle more than 95% of the water used, the hydroponics and greenhouse industry has a recognised track record for low water use compared to other agricultural and horticultural sectors.
In an arid country such as Qatar with poor soils and limited water resources, hydroponics is envisaged to play a major role in improving the country’s Food Security. The QNFSP will gear policy so that all crops which can be grown hydroponically are grown in such a manner in order to preserve water; increase yield; and to free Qatar’s limited arable land for crops which can only be grown under open field. As per international experience, and to achieve this goal, the hydroponics industry in Qatar will need to:
- Adopt recycling technology which offsets the need for soil, water and energy to produce crops and dramatically reduce natural resource use;
- Develop new sustainable pest and disease control practices, without pesticides and fungicides;
- Invest in food technology research, including biotechnology;
- Develop more efficient production systems with smaller footprints and demands on natural resources;
- Develop better greenhouse designs and construction materials that optimize climate control;
- Invest in renewable energy resources, such as the development of cheaper plastic solar cells;
- Encourage industry recognition and support by the Government
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