Hydroponic vs. Conventional, Friends or Foes?
Photo credit: EHow

Does hydroponic grown produce negatively impact conventionally grown produce?

If so, how? Can these two different markets be complementary to each other?

Hydroponic growers are constantly asked, if not berated, about the possibility of competition within the agricultural sector between hydroponics and conventional, soil-based agriculture. There are positive and negative aspects of both techniques, and although they both exist in the food production sector, they have enough differences to allow them to work side-by-side, if not compliment each other.

The biggest difference between the two industries is with crop choice. Due to high startup and maintenance costs of hydroponic greenhouses, many crops that are at the center of the agricultural sector are simply not economically feasible to grow. Corn, grains, and grasses could technically be grown hydroponically, but are generally only lucrative when grown on giant lots, sizes that dwarf even the largest greenhouses on the planet. The hydroponic industry is currently focused on tomatoes, peppers, basil, head lettuce, marijuana, and some strawberries, crops with a much higher value per pound. Although many hydroponicists are having success with other plants, these crops have been proven financially viable for the amount of money and labor that goes into a commercial hydroponic farm.

Weather and climate separate the two industries as well. While outdoor, soil-based agriculture, especially in temperate zones, is limited by seasons, hydroponic greenhouses can produce year round through climate control and artificial lighting. In a perfect world, soil-based agriculture can produce through the Spring, Summer, and Fall and hydroponics and controlled environments can provide produce through the normally non-productive months. This cooperation may seem a little optimistic, but it’s how it should and will work in the future.

Certain regions aren’t even possible to grow with traditional agriculture, but with energy and municipal water access, they can be extremely productive hydroponic systems. This could bring local, fresh produce to places there isn’t even any other competition in the first place.

More recently it’s common for farmers to build a hydroponic greenhouse to manage alongside an established soil-based operation. They’ll do this to bring tomatoes, basil, or leafy greens to the market during potentially un-productive months in the winter, and to diversify their crop, which protects them against pest, environmental, or demand-based issues.

Certain, drought affected farmers can benefit from hydroponics as well. Hydroponics may seem like a water-intensive form of growing, but it’s actually considerably less (90% less) than soil-based agriculture, mainly due to water circulation and the lack of run-off and surface water evaporation. Although it’s a large investment, it can help many farmers survive water limitations as we’re seeing across the world, today.

Considering that they both are producing food in general, there will always be some form of competition, but due to the major differences between them, and the possibility to use both technologies within one farm, it is completely practical for them to work hand in hand.  

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