Hydroponics - Farming for the future

  • 13 Desember 2019
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Senwes Scenario paid a visit to Jomajoco farm in Gauteng, where farmer Johan van den Bosch showed us how he grows various herbs and lettuce through the hydroponics technique.

The growing instability of the farming sector due to climate change and other varying factors, has called for the need to look at different ways through which farmers can optimise their production and still increase their yields. One way to do this is through greenhouse farming, a concept that has gained popularity in the South African agricultural community in recent years.

The simplified explanation of the meaning of hydroponics is that it is the process of growing plants without soil. Plants are grown in rows, inside “tables”, suspended in water.

A closer look at the process, however, proves it to be a little more intricate than that. Firstly, the idea is to grow bigger plants in less time than usual without being reliant on the climate. That means no more seasonal plant worries as the condition of the soil bares no consequence for production with this type of farming.

Optimum water usage is also particularly vital for hydroponic farming. To achieve favourable results, farmers have to monitor the process closely and make sure that their systems have adequate water, well-maintained tunnels and sufficient fertiliser and other necessary nutrients.

At Jomajoco farm, Johan showed us his pump room, which is where all the real magic happens. It is from there that a control system feeds information to the farmer about happenings in the fields throughout the day.

The system is connected to his laptop and cell phone and he can check-in remotely at any time of day from anywhere. The control system will typically display the amounts of water and nutrients that need to be added daily to maintain a proper growing environment. This allows for the rapid detection of any problems that may arise and creates the opportunity for a quick response. In the field, the plants are arranged neatly in horizontal rows a fair distance from the ground, which allows for him and his farm workers to tend to them without bending.

This system is designed in such a way that water runs through the tables and is absorbed by the plants. Water that is not absorbed then gets collected, cleaned up and recycled back through to the plants from the pump room, which is built atop a dam.

One of the main pitfalls of hydroponic farming is high input costs. To set up production as remarkable as the one Johan has built up in the seven years since he started with hydroponics, requires high costs.

He advises that starting small and building it up is the best approach to this type of endeavour, but also conceded that production costs will remain consistently high.

“If you think about it, you are cutting out about 95 percent of intensive labour and also cutting your production time quite a lot. To do that successfully, you have to be prepared to pour money into making sure that your systems run efficiently.”

Johan also spoke about the importance of including marketing into your farming strategy. “It is important to have a market for the vegetables you are producing. We cannot afford not to sell, so a solid marketing strategy is essential for the sustainability of the business.”

Johan also teaches farmers who are interested in getting started with hydroponics. He conducts monthly workshops from his farm where he shares his journey, gives farmers tools and strategies on how to get started and sustain a hydroponic farming practice. In these sessions, he showcases how it is possible to increase production up to three times through this simple, yet powerful farming system.