Smitha, our focus remains rooted in soil to produce a range of wholesome organic crops for now - read on to get an insight why.
Praise to UrbanKisaan
We love UrbanKisaan, we really do. The entrepreneurial efforts of a young team to bring hydroponic food production to a local store nearby, eliminating a lot of the hassles from soil based production merit loads of appreciation. And who doesn’t adore Urban Kisaan’s chief millennial farmer, our own Samantha!
What is Hydroponics?
In a nutshell, hydroponic cultivation means growing without soil, mostly indoors, in nutrient solutions formulated to supply the plants with whatever is normally provided by soil. Light is another essential the plant is provided with, to perform photosynthesis. When light is provided artificially, it is possible to stack multiple racks of plants, in a technique called vertical farming. Suitable supports to keep the plant upright are provided where necessary – using clay balls, strings, stakes, coco peat medium etc. Plants get carbon-dioxide from the air just as regular plants do.
There are a few variations to the approach such as aquaponics (growing in nutrient solution enriched by rearing fish) and aeroponics (growing with roots suspended and nutrient solution supplied as a mist), but the foundational principles remain the same.
Benefits of Hydroponics
- Food can be grown virtually anywhere, without dependence on farm land.
- Crop yields are typically higher.
- Better water use efficiency since the same water is recycled over and over, without soil or evaporation losses.
- Fewer pests since the crops are protected indoors. No weeds, so no costs for weeding.
- No or low transport since these crops are typically grown in cities.
Why OrganicSiri isn’t into Hydroponics?
1. Limited range of hydroponic crops:
We like to grow lots of crops in our farms, and hydroponics has a very small range. Soil-less cultivation is great for exotic crops such as basil, kale, lettuce, butterhead, bok choy, rose mary, leek, thyme, celery, arugula, parsley, fennel, ice berg – but honestly how many of these have you eaten in the last two months?
The vast majority of our day to day foods – let’s take some examples – rice, wheat, dal, corn, most native vegetables including root crops, seasonal fruits, tree crops – are never going to come to you from soilless culture. What about your mangoes, seetaphals, bananas, guavas, lemons, oranges, grapes, apples, papayas, jamuns, groundnuts, millets or even milk? Nope!
2. Hydroponics is not organic
OrganicSiri crops are completely grown organically. The focus at our farms is to build soil health, produce sustainably, support ecological balance and develop symbiotic relationships with nature. Cattle, earthworms, beneficial insects, birds, microbes – to name a few – are all part of this complex ecological equation. Nutrients in organic farming come from manures and natural minerals; chemical fertilizers are not allowed for use as per organic standards.
Hydroponic cultivation is not organic, since it relies on nutrient solutions, prepared mostly from dissolving chemical nutrients and salts in water. To date, we are not aware of practical nutrient solutions for organic hydroponics, that are produced from animal and plant manures; only aquaponics recycles fish waste as plant nutrient to an extent. It is possible that indoor farming may have lower insect infestation and hence lower pesticide use, though the absence of natural enemies might offset the benefit. Also, higher humidity in closed conditions may result in higher fungal disease incidence. There is lots of debate in advanced countries from proponents of soilless farming and organic farming on where this type of farming should sit.
Hydroponic farms in India cannot be organic certified.
3. Wholesome nutrition comes from organic food
Let me tell you something with my professional Agronomist hat on – we know too little of nature’s ways. Three decades back, I sat in my classroom and studied that plants needed 16 elements. Later, a farm scientist discovered Silicon was needed too. Someone else added Selenium and Nickel; it looks like some plants like Aluminium as well – there is a new learning each day. In fact, there has been a paradigm shift from research studies that show soil is a dynamic living medium that provides a very complex support system to plants.
If you have heard folks profess recently on how macro and micro organisms in farms really perform the farming and how man’s role is merely to facilitate the intricate interactions, you would appreciate why soil is central to farming. Just take one example of soil fungi called VAM (Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizae) – these are now indicated to support plants extract moisture and minerals from deeper layers of soil and to impart resistance to plants. Aren’t these findings mind boggling?
As organic farmers ourselves, we definitely believe natural produce is more complete, tasty and wholesome until we are able to reverse engineer and replicate the magic of nature in its entirety. Hydroponics is definitely a step towards copying soil’s functions but we believe we are very far from making a true copy. If we were close enough, we would all be popping in a neatly formulated nutrient pill each day than spend time consuming the variety of foods that we do and have the body assimilate the constituents to rebuild the components it needs.
What is the future? – soil or soil-less farming?
Hydroponic produce is like a nice little seasoning on our regular food. It is fun to have a dash of fancy exotic flavors on the side once in a while, although we will never want to miss our routine, boring yet irresistible roti, rice and dal, that get healthier when organic! When we picked some stuff from an Urban Kisan store recently, we realized the folks there may actually be thinking on the same lines, stocking regular vegetables, leafies and fruits along with the hydroponic produce they themselves grow.
So you now know why OrganicSiri is blissfully wedded to soil! We don’t plan to spread our efforts thin venturing into hydroponics for now; instead we are working on expanding our farms – more on that in a separate post.