Hydroponic Farming – Advantages, Disadvantages & Environmental Impact

You may not be familiar with the term hydroponics, yet it’s important to our pursuit of sustainability. In this post, we examine what hydroponic farming is, the benefits and drawbacks of hydroponics, as well as how they affect the environment.

What is Hydroponic Farming?

Plants are grown hydroponically in nutrient-rich water, either with or without the mechanical assistance of an inert medium like perlite, sand, or gravel. For scientific investigations into plant nutrition, plants have long been grown with their roots submerged in water and fertilizer solutions.

This culture technique was used in early commercial hydroponics (Greek hydro-, meaning “water,” and ponos, meaning “labor”). However, gravel culture—in which gravel supports the plants in a waterproof bed or bench—replaced this technique due to the challenges of maintaining the plants in a normal upright growing position and aerating the solution.

Numerous substrate types have been effectively employed, such as fused shale, sand, pumice, perlite, rice husks, granite chips, molten rock spun into fibers, clay pellets, and coconut coir.

Periodically, a fertilizer solution—often made of synthetic fertilizers or fish or duck excrement—is pumped through; the frequency and concentration of this solution vary based on the type of plant and environmental factors like temperature and light. Pumping is often automatic, and the solution empties into a tank.

The fertilizer solution is made up of different chemical compounds that are graded for use in agriculture or horticulture and contain different amounts of major elements required for plant growth, such as potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, as well as various trace or minor elements like sulfur, magnesium, and calcium.

Tests conducted regularly reveal whether more chemicals or water are required, although the solution can be used indefinitely. Typically, the chemical components can be combined dry and kept in storage. The solution’s concentration and pumping frequency increase as the plants get bigger.

12 Pros & Cons of Hydroponic Farming | Earth.Org

Types of Hydroponic Farming

  • Active System
  • Passive System

Active System

In an active system, a water solution that is pumped around gives the plant roots immediate access to nutrients. Because this system is more complex, some growers may find it challenging. The nutritional solution is transferred from a reservoir to the roots by the active system’s pumps. The extra solution returns to the reservoir after being absorbed by the roots.

Passive System

Pumps are not needed in passive systems to move the solution around. Rather, the plants are submerged in the solution, which gets to the roots through a variety of mechanisms such as capillary networks, flooding, and gravity. Using this kind of hydroponic farming is simple because it doesn’t require any pumps.

On the other hand, the farmer must regularly replace the water. In addition, the lack of pumps facilitates the growth of algae, potentially lowering the quality of the water.

Advantages of Hydroponic Farming 

Hydroponics is a productive system for growing plants, and it will probably rank among the most practical and sustainable methods of producing food shortly. Among its primary advantages are:

  • Does not require soil
  • Producing High-Quality Food for a larger population
  • Reduced Water Consumption 
  • Reduced Rate of Pest And Fungi
  • Improved Yield
  • Optimal Use of Area/Regional Diversity
  • Facilitates a Micro-Climate 
  • Seasonality and Predictability
  • Crops Grow Faster 
  • TTime-SavingSystem
  • Require Less Labor 
  • Shortens the Supply Chain 

1. Does not require soil

The first and most obvious advantage of hydroponic gardening is that it doesn’t require soil. Why is this relevant? One of the biggest issues facing agriculture and the globe today is land degradation. Farming in degraded soil is getting harder and harder.

Degradation of land can occur through chemical and physical processes. Physical degradation is associated with physical disturbance by farming equipment and natural erosion. Pollution and other forms of contamination cause chemical deterioration. Degradation of either type leaves the soil devoid of nutrients and unfit for producing nutritious crops.

Because hydroponic vegetables don’t exacerbate soil erosion, they can mitigate the effects of land degradation. Since the nutrients for these crops come from good topsoil, they are also unaffected by the crisis outcomes.

2. Producing High-Quality Food for a larger population

Because hydroponic systems are inside, producers are less likely to experience pest infestation, hence they do not utilize pesticides. Furthermore, plants receive the necessary nutrients directly in a solution, enabling them to grow more quickly and disease-free.

In addition to being of great quality, the hydroponic system can support a larger population in urban settings, increasing the availability of locally grown food in those places.

3. Reduced Water Consumption 

Comparing hydroponic farming to normal agriculture, far less water is used. The hydroponic system’s reuse and recirculation of the water solution through the pipes account for a large portion of that. After that, the extra water is returned to the reservoir of nutritional solution.

Because of this, hydroponics is a useful farming method in regions where droughts have caused water scarcity. On the other hand, conventional farming uses a lot of water, much of which is wasted because of inadequate irrigation and evaporation. Ultimately, very little water gets to the plants.

4. Reduced Rate of Pest And Fungi

Since soil is not required for hydroponic plant growth, there are fewer cases of soil-borne illnesses. Furthermore, because this farming method is carried out indoors in a controlled environment, the likelihood of insect infestations.

5. Improved Yield

Plants grown hydroponically have a regulated and observed environment. Furthermore, the roots grow more quickly when the necessary nutrients are given to them directly.

Since cultivators are not dependent on the seasons, the indoor environment also enhances productivity. This implies that crops can be produced all year round without having to worry about harvests being lost to climatic fluctuations, pest infestations, or problems from ground-based animals and birds.

6. Optimal Use of Area/Regional Diversity

Saving space is one of the major benefits of hydroponic gardening. Because plants in traditional agriculture must look for nutrients in the soil, they develop deeper roots.

However, in hydroponics, the roots receive their nutrients immediately, so they don’t have to search for them. Because hydroponic plants have fewer deep roots and require less room, they are a great option for city dwellers who live in enclosed spaces, arid regions, and severely cold climates.

Since the entire environment is controlled and the plants receive only the necessary amount of macro and micronutrients, hydroponic farming enables the efficient use of nutrients.

When compared to plants grown through traditional farming, where the plants are dependent on the nutrients present in the soil that are dependent on various environmental parameters, plants grown through hydroponics are known to achieve a better yield and high growth rate by providing the optimum nutrients required for growth.

Variations in temperature, humidity, and water quality, for instance, can put plants under stress and alter their biochemical makeup, which can have an impact on the growth and quality of the produce.

7. Facilitates a Micro-Climate 

With a hydroponic greenhouse, gardeners may customize the ideal environment for each crop thanks to Micro-Climate Technology. Growers can create the optimal microclimate for each type of crop they grow by adjusting the climate appropriately in an enclosed system.

A hydroponic greenhouse may have a section where spinach is kept at a cool 55°F. Closer to 70°F, romaine lettuce might be grown in another location. Growers can produce more types in a single system when they manage the microclimates surrounding each crop.

8. Seasonality and Predictability

The majority of crops are limited to growing in particular seasons and climates. Grocers import summer vegetables from around the world when consumers demand them in the dead of winter. This exacerbates the transit-related greenhouse gas problem.

The topic of predictability is another. Numerous factors affect the yield of crops. An early frost, drought, flood, or storm can wipe out an entire field of crops, and the farmer is often powerless to stop it.

With indoor hydroponic farms, producers can consistently harvest their crops throughout the year. Regardless of the season, these crops grow year-round. Additionally, the yields are much more predictable because they are shielded from issues that could lead to crop failure.

9. Crops Grow Faster 

The capacity of hydroponic technology to harvest crops more quickly than conventional techniques is an encouraging advancement. Larger and faster crops may be produced when every plant is grown in ideal conditions.

However, many growers who use hydroponics claim that their crops mature in half the time—or even less—than those that are produced in the soil. Green leafy vegetables exhibit this speed the most; however, gains can be made with almost any type of hydroponic plant.

10. Time Saving System

Traditional farming yields a crop that may not always be adequate or suitable in terms of quality and quantity, and it takes a lot of time and effort from the farmers to manage tilling, weeding, watering, and fumigating.

On the other hand, all you have to do with hydroponics is put it up in the location of your choice and watch your plants grow. While there may be an initial outlay of funds and effort, proper management ensures substantial returns over the long run.

11. Require Less Labor 

Soil-based farming requires a lot of work and, perhaps, is taxing. A human touch is still required in certain processes, such as harvesting fragile crops, even though many aspects of this growing method can be automated.

Although human labor is still required in hydroponic greenhouses, the smaller size of the buildings makes it possible to complete jobs more quickly, allowing you to complete more work with fewer workers. Furthermore, no harmful chemical pesticides are used on the workers at these facilities.

Careers in hydroponics operate in environments similar to laboratories, eschewing the risks associated with traditional agricultural labor in favor of respectable pay and benefits.

12. Shortens the Supply Chain 

The distance that fresh goods must travel from the rural areas where they are gathered to the grocery store shelves where they are sold presents one of the biggest challenges in our supply chain.

If you frequent your neighborhood farmer’s market, you are probably aware of how much nicer fresh produce tastes. Fresh meals can be grown hydroponically and harvested minutes or hours before they are consumed by customers.

Grocers can offer fresher foods—often harvested in a matter of hours or days—thanks to hydroponic farms. To provide white-label food choices like bagged salads and fresh herbs, they can also collaborate with hydroponic greenhouses.

Because of the shorter supply chain, they can provide food to their consumers directly from the farm, eliminating the need for middlemen.

Disadvantages of Hydroponic Farming 

In comparison to traditional agriculture, hydroponic farming is simpler and more efficient. Like anything nice, hydroponic farming is not without its problems.

  • High Set-Up Cost
  • Dependency on a Fixed Power Source or System
  • High-Level Maintenance & Monitoring 
  • Susceptibility to Waterborne Diseases
  • Requires Special Expertise

1. High Set-Up Cost

A hydroponic system’s setup costs are high. This is particularly valid for a large-scale system with a carefully designed architecture.

The initial installation of the water treatment plant, nutrient tank, lighting, air pump, reservoir, temperature controller, EC, acidity control, and plumbing systems can require a significant initial budget, depending on the automation and technology being used for the hydroponic system setup.

2. Dependency on a Fixed Power Source or System

Electricity is required for both passive and active hydroponics systems to run the various parts, including grow lights, water pumps, aerators, fans, and so forth. A power loss will therefore have an impact on the entire system. If a grower fails to notice a power outage in an active system, it may be harmful to the plants.

3. High-Level Maintenance & Monitoring 

When growing plants hydroponically, more oversight and micromanagement are needed than with conventional plant cultivation. All system components—lights, temperature, and several nutrient solution parameters, including pH and electrical conductivity—need to be constantly monitored to create a meticulously regulated growing environment.

To avoid accumulation and clogging, the nutritional solution must also be drained and replenished regularly, and the system components must be cleaned frequently.

4. Susceptibility to Waterborne Diseases

The constant flow of water via a hydroponic system increases the danger of some waterborne infections for the plants, even while cultivating plants in this manner helps lower the risk of soil-borne illnesses.

These illnesses can occasionally spread from one plant to the others by water solutions. This may lead to the extinction of every plant within the system.

5. Requires Special Expertise

A hydroponic system involves a lot of technical details. The system’s tools and procedures require someone with the right training and experience to operate them. Without the necessary knowledge, the plants are unlikely to flourish, which could have a detrimental effect on the output and result in significant loss.

Can hydroponic plants be certified organic just because they are grown without the use of pesticides? Given that organic farming entails enhancing the fertility and quality of the soil, some organic farmers are opposed to this notion.

Giving a hydroponic system organic accreditation is incorrect because it doesn’t require soil. However, the Ninth Circuit Court decided in favor of the USDA, permitting hydroponically grown plants to be certified organic as long as they are devoid of sewage, genetically modified organisms, and chemical fertilizers.

Environmental Impacts of Hydroponics

  • Water Conservation
  • Energy Efficient
  • Less Use of Pesticides
  • Less Use of Land
  • Reduced Carbon Footprint: Fresher Produce and Easy Access
  • Sustainable Crops

1. Water Conservation

It may seem that the system utilizes more water because it is “hydroponic,” but this isn’t the case. In comparison to conventional, soil-based agricultural techniques, hydroponic systems utilize substantially less water and recycle and reuse wastewater.

In addition, the watering systems in these greenhouses provide water straight to the roots of the plants, resulting in little evaporation and runoff and supplying the exact amount of water required by the plants. When combined, these initiatives use up to ten times less water than conventional farming techniques.

2. Energy Efficient

Systems that use hydroponics are naturally energy-efficient. To maximize plant growth, the carefully regulated temperature, humidity, and illumination lower the need for extra energy to sustain ideal growing conditions. LED grow lights are more energy-efficient and can be tailored to provide the precise light spectrum that plants require.

The aforementioned water system uses significantly less energy to pump and distribute water while recirculating nutrients and water. Finally, a lot of hydroponic greenhouses consume less energy than even conventional greenhouses since they have energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

3. Less Use of Pesticides

Because hydroponic systems are resistant to pests and illnesses, they require fewer pesticides, which means that fewer chemicals are released into the environment and that farmers may operate in a safer atmosphere.

According to studies, pesticides can kill insects, birds, and aquatic species in addition to entering groundwater systems and spreading via the wind. Herbicides are not required because there are also no weeds emerging. Herbicides are not required because there are also no weeds emerging.

Since hydroponic farms require less land and are easier to access for communities that might not have easy access to fresh produce, many of them are situated near or even inside urban centers.

4. Less Use of Land

Because hydroponic systems are constructed vertically, they occupy less room and require less acreage. 2.7 million servings of leafy greens may be produced annually in a 1.5-acre hydroponic greenhouse.

Consider Gotham Greens as an example. Established in 2009, the enterprise manages over 1.2 million square feet of hydroponic greenhouses spanning seven states in the United States. Located on a Whole Foods rooftop, their Brooklyn greenhouse has grown to be one of the biggest greenhouse lettuce producers in North America.

5. Reduced Carbon Footprint: Fresher Produce and Easy Access

Since hydroponic farms require less land and are easier to access for communities that might not have easy access to fresh produce, many of them are situated near or even inside urban centers.

It can take a week or longer for produce to travel from the field to the grocery store shelves, with 50% of fruits and 20% of vegetables coming from outside the nation.

In urban regions, hydroponic farming can generate food in less than 48 hours, from greenhouse to shelf. Compared to other possibilities, emissions are significantly lower because products don’t have to travel as far.

While the fertilizer solution in hydroponics can be reused indefinitely, the nutrients themselves need to be replaced as they are depleted. As the solution drips from the passages into a nutrient reservoir, they gather it. Farmers can obtain nutrients from a variety of sources as well. Fish waste is used as a source of nutrients in one method called aquaponics.

6. Sustainable Crops

With hydroponic systems, crops may be grown year-round in any place by creating the ideal growing environment. This can lead to higher crop yields than conventional farming techniques, especially when combined with improved control over nutrient supply.

Using hydroponic techniques, some businesses claim to be able to grow up to 240 times more crops than they could on conventional farms. Greenhouses can yield healthier produce more quickly by using technology to monitor crop health and progress.

Risks in the Hydroponic Industry

Similar to anything else, this developing industry may be subject to certain hazards, such as:

  • Property damage: Due to the high startup costs of these systems and grow houses, any damage could lead to large financial losses.
  • Water damage: crop and property damage may result from a leak or other system malfunction.
  • Power interruptions can harm hydroponic greenhouse plants since they rely mostly on technology to maintain ideal growing conditions.
  • Chemical handling: Hydroponics uses a variety of chemicals, such as nutrients, pH adjusters, and more. As a result, staff members must understand safe chemical handling techniques to prevent accidents.

Final Thoughts

Hydroponic farming is a productive indoor plant cultivation technique that offers several advantages. Without using pesticides, it enables gardeners to produce nutrient-rich plants much faster.

It has certain disadvantages, but they are outweighed by its benefits. Hydroponics is a year-round technique that can be applied by communities, businesses, and individuals to grow disease-free plants provided they have the necessary knowledge and use sustainable energy sources.


A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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