What is hydroponics – and is it the future of farming?

World Economic Forum publication

A report has been published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. She remarks that while industrialized farming techniques have meant a more plentiful supply of cheaper, fresher food – most notably in the developed world – they can also be a threat to the environment, promoting waste, putting too much strain on resources and causing pollution.

The report highlights the importance of cities in the production and consumption of food: “80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050, they have to be central to this story. Today they often act as black holes, sucking in resources but wasting many of them – the final stop in the take-make-waste approach.” One response to this, which is beginning to take shape, is vertical farming. Forecasts from Research & Markets claim the vertical farming industry could be worth as much as $3 billion by 2024. Key to this approach, where food is grown in densely populated towns and cities where land is scarce, is the use of hydroponics. Essentially, hydroponics is the process of growing plants without using soil. Through careful manipulation and management of the growing environment, including the amount of water, the pH levels and the combination of specific nutrients plants can be encouraged to grow faster. The net effects are increased yield and improved use of resources, reduced waste, preservation of water stocks and a diminished reliance on pesticides, fertilizers and other potentially harmful materials.