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Soilless crops: a sustainable solution to save irrigation water

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Soilless crops: a sustainable solution to save irrigation water

Europe is a continent that is used to dealing with drought. In 2022 and especially in 2023, the situation has worsened even more with the arrival of a historic drought that has affected a large part of the territory. This has led to stricter measures being taken for water use, and agriculture is one of the sectors that has been most affected. In this context, soilless cultivation is presented as an efficient solution to save irrigation water and ensure the continuity of agricultural production in an increasingly hostile environment.

Soilless cultivation can be a great solution to face drought and save irrigation water in times of scarcity. These systems make it possible to control and optimize the amount of water used in the crop, resulting in significant water savings compared to traditional cultivation methods. In addition, soilless crops are more water-efficient, as irrigation water can be recycled and used several times, further reducing water consumption. This is not only beneficial for the environment and crop sustainability but also helps reduce production costs and increase crop profitability.

What are soilless crops?

Soilless crops are those grown in a medium other than traditional soil, using hydroponic techniques. The crop is grown in an aqueous solution with nutrients that are supplied directly to the roots of the plants.

There are different types of soilless crops, some of the most common are:

  • Hydroponics: Cultivation is done in water with dissolved nutrients, without any substrate.
  • Aeroponics: Roots are suspended in the air and sprayed with a nutrient solution at regular intervals.
  • Substrate culture: Plants are grown in an inert substrate, such as rockwool, perlite or coconut fiber, and nutrient water is supplied through an irrigation system.

Each type of soilless cultivation has its own advantages, and the choice of the appropriate system will depend on the specific needs of the crop and the grower.

Soilless crops have several advantages over soil-based crops. First, they can reduce the need for irrigation water by up to 70% compared to soil-based crops, which is especially important in drought areas such as Europe. In addition, by not having to irrigate large areas of soil, soilless crops can also reduce energy and water costs.

Another advantage of soilless crops is that they allow more precise control of nutrients and the pH of nutrient solutions, which can increase crop quality and yield. They also prevent soil degradation and erosion, and reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, which benefits biodiversity and human health.

How do soilless crops help save on irrigation water?

ahorrar agua de riego

Soilless crops use drip or mist irrigation systems, which allow a more precise and controlled application of water, avoiding over-irrigation and water loss through evaporation or leaching. In addition, soilless cultivation systems usually use substrates with a high water retention capacity, which allows a better use of irrigation water and a reduction in the required amount of water. Also, as there are no water losses through drainage, water consumption is reduced and contamination of subway aquifers is avoided. In short, soilless cultivation saves irrigation water and reduces the demand for water resources in times of drought, which contributes to environmental conservation.

Efficient irrigation technology
In addition to soilless cultivation systems, there is also efficient irrigation technology that perfectly complements this cultivation technique. Efficient irrigation systems allow precise and homogeneous distribution of irrigation water, avoiding unnecessary losses and saving large amounts of water. Some efficient irrigation technologies include drip irrigation, micro-sprinkler irrigation and controlled flood irrigation. These systems enable irrigation automation, which allows for greater precision in water application and better management of water use. In combination with soilless cropping systems, efficient irrigation technology can be a very valuable tool in reducing irrigation water consumption and, therefore, an essential tool in the fight against drought.

Water recycling and reuse
In addition to soilless cultivation systems, there is also efficient irrigation technology that perfectly complements this cultivation technique. Efficient irrigation systems allow a precise and homogeneous distribution of irrigation water, avoiding unnecessary losses and saving large amounts of water. Some efficient irrigation technologies include drip irrigation, micro-sprinkler irrigation and controlled flood irrigation. These systems enable irrigation automation, which allows for greater precision in water application and better management of water use. In combination with soilless cropping systems, efficient irrigation technology can be a very valuable tool in reducing irrigation water consumption and, therefore, an essential tool in the fight against drought.

Precise irrigation water control
Reusing irrigation water is another way that soilless crops can help save on water. Instead of simply disposing of the water that has passed through the cropping system, it can be filtered and recirculated, which significantly reduces the amount of water needed for irrigation. In addition, by recycling the water, it prevents the accumulation of salts and other nutrients in the soil, which can be detrimental to plant growth. Irrigation water reuse technology is constantly evolving, and more and more innovative solutions are becoming available for farmers looking to maximize the use of their water resources.

 

General benefits of soilless cultivation

In addition to its contribution to saving irrigation water, soilless cultivation also has other general benefits in agriculture. By growing crops without soil, higher productivity and crop yields can be achieved, as the nutrients and growing environment of the plants can be more precisely controlled. Soil degradation is also significantly reduced, as the soil is not used as a growing medium and its natural structure is preserved. This, in turn, has a positive impact on biodiversity, as soil compaction and the loss of microorganisms and fauna necessary for soil fertility are avoided. In general, soilless crops allow for a more sustainable and efficient agricultural production in the use of natural resources.

Soilless growing ideas

Here are some ideas for soilless growing using Hydroponic Systems’ systems and their Spacer and metal trough combinations:

  • Growing lettuces: lettuces are ideal for growing in this system, as their root system is not very deep. You can use a mixture of coconut fiber and perlite as substrate, and adjust the nutrient solution for best performance.
  • Growing strawberries: Strawberries are another popular choice for growing soilless. Use a rockwool substrate and adjust the nutrient solution for optimum pH. The combination of Spacer and metal trough helps keep plants upright and maximize growing space.
  • Growing tomatoes: Tomatoes are a popular crop to grow soilless due to their high yield and quality. Use a mixture of peat and perlite as a substrate and adjust the nutrient solution for the best results. The combination of Spacer and metal trough helps maximize growing space and keep plants upright.
  • Grow herbs: Herbs are easy to grow in this system, as they do not require much soil depth. Use a mixture of coconut fiber and perlite as substrate and adjust the nutrient solution for the best results. The combination of Spacer and metal trough helps keep plants upright and maximize growing space.
  • Grow flowers: Flowers can also be grown without soil. Use a mixture of peat and perlite as substrate and adjust the nutrient solution for best results. The combination of Spacer and metal trough helps keep plants upright and maximize growing space.

Overall, Hydroponic Systems substrate growing systems and the Spacer and metal trough combination are very versatile and can be used for a wide variety of crops. It is important to adjust the nutrient solution and pH for best results and to maximize irrigation water savings.

 

ahorrar agua de riego

In conclusion, soilless crops offer a number of benefits that make them an attractive alternative for agriculture, especially in times of drought such as those experienced in Europe. Saving irrigation water, reducing soil degradation and less impact on biodiversity are just some of them. In addition, the use of efficient irrigation technology and water reuse are practices that can further maximize the benefits of soilless crops. In this regard, Hydroponic Systems’ combination of substrate growing systems, such as those including Spacer and metal trough, are an excellent option for efficient and sustainable soilless growing.

In summary, adopting sustainable technologies in agriculture is essential to address current and future challenges such as saving irrigation water, and soilless cultivation is a valuable tool on that path.

 

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