What does the future of farming look like?
Climate change poses a threat to farming. Severe weather, fluctuations in precipitation rates, and wildfires are only a few of the challenges our food production systems currently face. And part of the issue stems from agriculture itself.
Conventional cultivation methods damage Earth’s ecosystems: they generate about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and over-rely on chemicals and pesticides, slowly degrading our planet’s soil. Change is needed.
What are some of the alternatives to traditional farming?
Two of the most modern agricultural techniques are hydroponics and aeroponics. And because aeroponics is technically a subcategory of hydroponics, they share some principles.
Both methods require no soil to grow plants, and both feed the vegetal life with a nutrient-laden solution, i.e., nutrients dissolved in water.
However, the manner they do it differs considerably.
In hydroponics, plants grow in nutrient-rich water, typically using an inert medium to hold them in their position as the beneficial liquid rushes over their roots.
In aeroponics, roots dangle exposed and are sprayed with a nutrient-filled solution. This process happens in a controlled environment.
Despite both systems performing way above and beyond traditional farming (3-20 times more yields, 30-50% faster growth, and healthier plants with fewer resources), how do they fare against each other?
Aeroponics offers safer growth and healthier plants
Although hydroponics usually works well for several plants, aeroponics performs astonishingly better, especially for leafy greens, vine plants, and herbs. Its treatment of those plants is second to none.
Researchers from the Cornell Small Farms Program concluded that aeroponics enables healthier plant growth. Cultivating leafy greens in the soil, for instance, attracts bacteria and pathogens (including E. coli), which is not a problem when the roots are hanging.
And as NASA put it, “Since the growing environment is clean and sterile, it greatly reduces the chances of spreading plant disease and infection commonly found in soil and other growing media.”
On top of that, since roots are suspended and easily observable, transplanting them becomes less effortful and less likely to damage the plants permanently.
On the other hand, hydroponics can facilitate root diseases to spread, considering plants share the same nutrient-dense water. If one of them is diseased, other roots can be affected, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint the origin of the contamination and causing complete crop loss.
Aeroponics provides higher yields, but there are different approaches
According to an AgriTech publication, “With aeroponics, a grower can take the same seed from the field and grow it in half the time as a traditional field farmer, leading to 390 times more productivity per square foot than a commercial field farm.”
However, not all aeroponics systems are created equal. Most of the time, you may encounter low-pressure aeroponics or high-pressure aeroponics as your main options. But there’s ultrasonic fogger aeroponics, also called fogponics. The key difference boils down to the size of the water droplet that is produced, usually ranging from 30-80 microns.
The higher the pressure, the smaller the droplet. The smaller the droplet, the easier it is for roots to absorb nutrients.
In high-pressure aeroponics, the sort of system Interstellar Lab is working with, water gets atomized around or below 50 microns—far smaller than half of the width of human hair. Thus, plants receive the highest possible nutrition level and O2 directly, making them likely to grow larger and faster. What’s more, according to NASA research, it helps reduce nutrient waste since roots absorb more of them with aeroponics.
The literature goes further and reveals some staggering numbers.
One experiment with sunflowers showed that aeroponic plants were about 30% bigger than hydroponic ones after six weeks.
In a study on lettuce, uptake of macronutrients—such as nitrogen and phosphorus—was 64% higher in aeroponics when compared to hydroponics. Efficient aeroponic systems also provide adequate CO2 levels for photosynthesis.
Aeroponics needs less water and space, and it becomes even more cost-effective in the long run
Although hydroponics tends to reuse water more efficiently, aeroponics consumes less of it. In fact, you might be able to save up to 25% of water with aeroponics while spending less on nutrients since they are gently misted rather than washed over the roots.
It might be useful to think of aeroponics as a shower and hydroponics as a bath. Aeroponics employs intermittent spraying and, similarly to the shower, consumes less water overall.
And in terms of area requirements, hydroponic setups often demand far more space. Moreover, you should also be accounting for the extra storage space needed for water and resources. To some extent, using more water might require more tank capacity, fertilizer, and even nutrient solution.
At first, the investment and attention to establish and operate an aeroponic system might seem higher, but the advantages gradually pile up. State-of-the-art equipment might be expensive, and the initial stage to adjust all the processes could be time-consuming.
Nevertheless, the final product results in a calibrated climate (tailored to specific crops) and leads to better yields. In the long run, ongoing costs might vary depending on the growing area.
Aeroponics is a great choice for the future and for BioPods
Traditional farming must change, and both hydroponics and aeroponics present themselves as solutions for our future. Despite both approaches performing better than soil-based agriculture, aeroponics requires less water and land while leading to better yields. At the same time, it consumes fewer fertilizers and pesticides while promoting plant health.
Revenue for farmers—and survival for space explorers—often relies on growing crops under harsh conditions and in a sustainable fashion. Scientific research has proven the advantages of aeroponics, and its future looks promising. That’s why we have chosen high-pressure aeroponics for our food production solution, BioPod.
Since its inception, our company, Interstellar Lab, set out to accelerate the transition to regenerative solutions and protect biodiversity. Aeroponics integrated with BioPod proves to be a reliable way of attaining those goals.
If you want to learn more, read our article about how BioPods can preserve biodiversity.
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