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The Future of Agriculture: Soilless Agriculture-2

Soilless Agriculture Applications

Soilless farming is an alternative agricultural method where the plant’s water and nutrient needs are provided in a special growth medium, distinct from traditional soil-based farming. Plants grown using this technique can obtain their nutrient requirements directly through their roots from a specially prepared solution, as well as from inorganic solid growing media.

As a result, soilless farming practices are divided into two categories: “hydroponics” and “solid medium culture” depending on the type of growing environment.

This method offers several advantages over traditional and widespread soil-based farming practices. For instance, water usage is controlled and tailored to the plant’s needs, resulting in significant water savings compared to irrigation in soil-based systems. In hydroponics, a method we will discuss in detail shortly, water collected in a reservoir is delivered to plant roots through pipes and then recirculated. This closed-loop system ensures minimal water loss except for evaporation.

Another advantage of soilless farming, as implied by its name, is the absence of soil. In traditional agriculture, plants often face exposure to pests and diseases through the soil, leading to yield losses, increased expenses due to the use of agricultural chemicals, and, most importantly, potential health risks for humans.

Soilless farming minimizes these negative effects to a great extent. There is no need to rest the soil to combat fatigue in long-term plantings. Consequently, continuous and uninterrupted production is achievable through soilless farming.

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Image-1. A hydroponic greenhouse utilizing the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) for plant nourishment.

Planned design of the cultivation environment is one of the significant advantages of soilless farming. This allows precise control of parameters such as the required nutrient quantity for the plant, water level and temperature, humidity of the environment, and oxygen supply to the roots, all based on optimal values for plant growth.

Adjusting and continuously monitoring environmental variables according to the plant species enhance the development speed of the crops. In soilless farming, the harvest period is generally shorter.

Furthermore, the purposeful physical layout of the cultivation area provides a suitable environment for agriculture automation applications, which we will discuss later. Monitoring variables through sensors and implementing robotic applications and various industrial innovations in the planting process become relatively easier in a pre-designed environment.

Another widespread benefit of soilless production is the savings achieved from the absence of soil. The use of movable carrier pipes like the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) allows for higher crop density per square meter. Vertical farming applications, a different variation of soilless farming, can significantly increase the amount of produce obtained from a fixed area.

Growing Mediums

Soilless farming applications can be categorized into two types: water culture (hydroponics) and solid medium culture, depending on the growing environment of the plant. In this article, we will examine farming with water culture, which is generally the most preferred method. However, for general information, let’s briefly touch upon solid growing media as well.

Solid Medium Culture

It is the environment in which the plant is planted in materials such as bags, pots, or trays using various organic or inorganic materials as a supporting structure. There are different cultivation techniques such as bed culture, pot culture, and bag culture.

Organic materials such as coconut coir, bark, sawdust, and composted plant waste are used as the medium materials for planting the crops, while inorganic materials like perlite, vermiculite, rock wool, or glass wool are utilized.

Water Culture

Also known as hydroponics, this system does not involve any solid medium. As the name suggests, plant roots come into direct contact with a nutrient-rich solution in water. It can be categorized into three types: static water culture, flow system, and nutrient mist culture.

In static water culture, plant roots are immersed in a closed and lightproof tank containing the nutrient solution. The nutrient levels are monitored, and any decreasing nutrients are replenished regularly. Similar to aquariums, an air stone is used to maintain oxygen-rich water in the closed tanks.

In the flow system, a method called Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is used. In this technique, nutrient-rich water from the reservoir flows through rectangular-shaped pipes at a constant or intermittent height of 1-2 mm.

These pipes, also known as NFT channels, hold the plants, and the plant roots come into contact with the flowing nutrient solution at their tips while the rest of the roots can access air. This allows the plants to continuously receive the water, nutrients, and oxygen they need through their roots.

In the nutrient mist culture method, the nutrient-rich water is applied to the plant roots in the form of a continuous or intermittent mist. The water, nutrient, and air mixture allows the plant roots to receive all necessary components, especially oxygen.

Overall, hydroponic culture provides an efficient way for plants to access nutrients, water, and oxygen without the need for soil, leading to optimized plant growth and increased yields.

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Image-2. A greenhouse using the flow system for production.

The nutrient film technique (NFT) is frequently preferred in soilless farming applications due to its simple system setup and operation, as well as its lower cost compared to other cultivation methods.

In this article, we will base our new cultivation medium on this technique (NFT), as it is commonly used in soilless cultivation in Türkiye as well. The ease of obtaining the required components for installation makes this system more suitable for small-scale experimental cultivation.

Soilless farming applications are generally more costly compared to traditional farming. The channel systems, tanks for storing water and nutrient solutions, and electric water pumps required for planting and nourishing plants are additional expenses.

Moreover, although there are theoretically no obstacles to practicing soilless farming in an open field, in widespread practical applications, closed greenhouse environments are used to physically protect the systems and maintain a controlled climate with the right temperature and humidity balance.

However, all this extra equipment can lead to significantly increased efficiency, reduced labor, and access to healthier food. Independent production regardless of location and season can secure local food supply.

Other Parts of the Article Series

References

  • Tarım ve Orman Bakanlığı. (2020). “Bitkisel Üretim Verileri”.
  • Euronews.com (Mayıs 2020). “Türkiye’de son 12 yılda çiftçi sayısı yüzde 48 düştü, tarım alanları da azalıyor”.  (Erişim tarihi: 2 Mayıs 2023)
  • Anaç, D. (Ed.). (2020). “Topraksız Tarım ve Bitki Besleme Teknikleri.” Nobel Akademi Yayıncılık.
  • ziptiedomes.com. (2023). “Geodesic Dome Kits that are Easy to Build!”.  (Erişim tarihi: 2 Mayıs 2023)

Beğen  3
Alican TONBUL (TA1CBA)
Yazar

Dünyadaki Mars Projesi (MoEP) gönüllüsü ve yazarı, fizik öğretmeni. Amatör telsiz çağrı işareti: TA1CBA (Mars on Earth Project-MoEP Volunteer and author. Physics teacher. Callsign: TA1CBA)

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