Last edited 12 Jul 2016

Hydroponics

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[edit] Background

40% of food in the UK is imported, and as our self-sufficiency over the last 10 years has fallen by 18%, we seem set to import even more in the future. We currently import 95% of our fruit and 50% of our vegetables, and this accounts for 2.5% of our total greenhouse emissions. (Department for Environment 2008).

Importing food leaves us vulnerable to global markets and to global surges in prices. Agriculture is a very energy intensive industry and can easily be affected by jumps in oil prices, as was seen in 2007/2008 where prices doubled. These higher oil prices had not only a direct effect on the cost of food production, but also increased the demand for bio-fuels, resulting in greater competition for fertile land. (EC 2008)

Higher food prices have many negative effects and tend to hit the poorest hardest. Not only do they make food less affordable, they also impact on inflation, eroding savings and reducing economic growth. (Allen 2012)

[edit] Hydroponics

The carbon footprint of food sourced from around the world can be great, however 'greenhouses' can produce food throughout the year reducing the requirement for imports. Greenhouses can be built at the point of demand, significantly reducing food miles.

When crops are grown hydroponically, in high-tech greenhouses, they are suspended in nutrient rich water rather than soil. This decreases the time taken for plants to mature, greatly increasing production efficiency.

Additionally, production is not dependant on the weather, meaning that it produces a very reliable crop (for example a quality rejection for tomatoes at a rate of just 2% compared to nearly 50% for field grown (Thanet Earth n.d.).

Pesticides are not used, as no bacteria are present in the growing environment as there is no soil.

Minimal water and fertiliser are used as only the bare minimum is provided to meet the plant needs. This is unlike soil production were there is significant loss through run off, and as 90% of soluble nutrients can be leached out from soil, this can also result in pollution of the local environment.

Thanet Earth is the largest hydroponic greenhouse in Britain. Constructed in 2010, this £80 million project covers 220 acres of Kent farmland providing a British food source all the year round.

Hydroponic technology can also allow growth in constrained areas and cities, such as with Gotham Greens in Brooklyn USA. Such schemes could have the potential to revolutionise the future of agriculture. (Gotham Farms n.d.)

Opponents say hydroponics produce is tasteless; suggesting that taste only comes from soil. Hydroponic growers however suggest that taste depends on the variety grown

Hydroponics has the potential to benefit the country and environment. While expensive to build this factory like system provides an alternative product that can be grown locally, that is fresh, pesticide free, environmentally friendly and at the same time supports our local economy and allows us to be in control of our future.

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