Over the years, one of the opinions about organic hydroponics is that it isn’t a nutrient dense food compared to soil-based agriculture. We wanted to see if these claims were true for the controlled environment agriculture, greenhouse, and vertical farming industry. This is what public information is known:
For those that support this position, one of the things that they’ve based this claim upon is the fact that organic hydroponics is lower in “Brix”, a measure of sugars, vitamins, minerals, proteins and other solid content in plant liquids. The way to measure this is by pressing out all plant liquids (or fruit) onto a refractometer’s prism. One of the main points of contention is that soil-based agriculture produces more calcium, which substantially increases the amount of brix within a plant. Therefore, because it has been shown that organic hydroponics have lower Brix, it should therefore indicate that there are less nutrients in the produce. The general consensus is that the higher the brix, the healthier the plant.
For organic hydroponic growers, the question then is whether it’s possible for their plants to achieve the same level of nutrition. In order to do that, agriculture technology must come into play. The more efficiently plants take up water and a wide spectrum of both macro and micronutrients, the higher the Brix, which means growers need to be very intentional with which agriculture technology fits their system best in order to achieve maximum efficiency and overall plant productivity. “Since organic biostimulants improve the uptake of minerals, the judicious use of additives such as amino acids, humic and fulvic acids, and seaweed extracts can help improve Brix. The proper balance of minerals in the nutrient solution can also have a positive effect, particularly the potassium-to-nitrate ratio.”
Therefore, often times, when a hydroponic consultant encounters a low Brix leaf, one will suggest raising the potassium-to-nitrate ratio.
Research has shown that organic hydroponic growers may have a fighting chance here to still produce nutritionally-dense food. Studies indicate that in some high-value fresh vegetables, hydroponic systems were able to produce that due to a high accumulation of bioactive compounds, as per the table below. Now, the caveat here is that this also requires a tight control over the entire production process, such as the composition of nutrients, temperature, humidity, light and water salinity.
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In conclusion, hydroponic growers may need to put in a more effort at the start to create a system and select nutrients that are able to achieve the level of brix that will contribute to a plant’s nutrient density. But the end game is a long game, and if these important decisions are made early on about which agriculture input and technology providers can help a grower achieve this, it relieves them of a lot of stress in the future.
By Riyana Razalee