22 de octubre de 2020

To understand the impact that soilless and hydroponic growing systems are having on ecosystems in different regions of the world, it will be necessary to do a deep introspection one by one, by all of us who are involved in human activities.

In every order of life issues, there are whites, blacks and also nuances. From my point of view, it would be nice to have the ability to see the entire color palette when analyzing a question. In this way, we will avoid falling into polarizations and tendencies to strongly defend ideas, and thus we will give rise to other points of view.

Today, I will discuss soilless and hydroponic growing systems. I will speak from my experience, I understand that it is the only way to be transparent, critical and responsible, if I want to include all the colors of the issue. At least the ones I know and can share.

Hydroponic or soilless cultivation systems are cultivation techniques where the use of soil is not required for the production of plant foods. They have the particularity that, if they are recirculating systems, they use small quantities of water, which is why they are especially interesting to use in arid regions such as islands, deserts and any region of the planet where water is a scarce resource. They are even used in regions where water and fertile soil abound, deciding on the use of this technique, for other attributes it offers, such as productivity, comfort, hygiene, etc.

The possibility of producing with this cultivation technique, close to consumption centers, helps to reduce costs and pollution, due to the lower use of fuel in transportation.

Some of these systems are not recirculating, and instead use a lot of water, exceeding some soil irrigation systems in water consumption. This high water consumption is due to the fact that, since the nutrient solution used in plant growth is not recirculated, there is a surplus of water with minerals that must be removed from the system. At this point, a risk of real contamination appears, if those who carry out these systems do not take the appropriate measures to avoid it.

Today there are ways to avoid contamination by excess effluents (discarded nutrient solution), such as, for example, by irrigating green areas. Of course, the greater the dimension of a soilless cultivation project, the greater the effluents, and the greater the efforts that must be used in order to avoid contamination of groundwater, rivers, seas, etc.

On the other hand, these systems allow greater control of the environment, since in most cases work is done in greenhouses. The use of plastics for the construction of greenhouses has a negative impact on the environment due to the dependence on it.

The use of greenhouses allows greater comfort for the plants, which, being less stressed, do not require heavy use of pesticides.

It is also a reality that there are producers who make excessive use of pesticides. We are many others who choose to incorporate the use of biological controllers, friendly to the environment, in our crop management.

For each advantage of the cultivation system, I understand that we can also name disadvantages.

For example, by not using soil, the system protects this ancient resource and we can be cultivating with this technique for tens of years, practically without altering its fertility. It is also true that this portion of soil will dry out over the years, because as it is covered with plastic, the rains will not wet it. This undoubtedly has a negative effect on the flora and fauna of the soil.

The care of water, of great importance since always, is important to highlight. It is known that traditional agriculture (which uses soil), uses incredible amounts of water to grow crops. With hydroponic cultivation systems we can achieve a great reduction in this consumption. However, laws are also needed to regulate, so that these systems are recirculating, since not all producers have the initiative to produce in this way.

It is fundamental, because from its decisions it founds and gives rise to all the subsequent environmental impact, be it positive or negative.

Whoever produces has in their decisions, the possibility of caring for the soil, the water, the environment, the workers, the consumers, the surrounding flora and fauna.

The color palette (tools to produce) available to the producer, I understand that they help tip the balance towards the protection of natural resources, if the decisions are well taken. The effort for this color palette to be increasingly broad must be made by all of us who are involved in these crop systems.

Both in soil and soilless production, and in any other area of ​​life, one by one, we must be responsible according to the achievements we want to reach.

There are no magic recipes. There is magic from our decisions.

Pablo Matias Gonzalez
Agricultural engineer
Plant Protection Specialist
Hydroponics Consultant