Hydroponics on way up in Mid-Atlantic
LYNCHBURG, Va. — Delvin Yoder inherited a hydroponics farm that his father launched in 1996 when he departed the fertilizer business.
The method involves cultivating crops indoors without the use of soil, fertilizers and pesticides and with as much as 95-percent less water than field crops require.
“We stepped into it,” Yoder said.
Hydroponics growers like Yoder cultivate crops in a Perlite volcanic glass with high water content and a coconut fiber medium known to promote root growth.
The nutrient solutions they feed them helps them to grow faster and produce higher yields than traditional crops.
Methods are growing up instead of out, said Bill Jordan of Fresh Harvest Hydroponics in Millsboro, Del.
“As land becomes more expensive, as growing outdoors becomes less consistent, hydroponics is becoming more popular,” Dan Lubkeman, President of the Hydroponic Society of America in Berkeley, Calif., said. “Hydroponics means more food in less space, with less water in less time.
“When you look at overpopulation and dwindling natural resources, this is a solution.”
The USDA’s Climate Change Science Plan calls for expanded opportunity through innovation that helps rural America thrive and agriculture become more sustainable.
The plan is designed to better nourish Americans and help to feed others throughout the world while conserving natural resources, natural forests and improved watersheds.
The Climate Change Program is focused in part on balancing carbon dioxide levels.
Many hydroponics farms add carbon dioxide to their environments, because most plants grow faster under elevated levels, according to Dr. Daniel Taub of Southwestern University’s Biology Department.
At the same time, the nitrogen in plant tissue in high-carbon environments decreases along with the uptake of other minerals from the soil, Taub noted.
Protein concentrations in wheat, rice and barley are as a result also reduced, Taub said.
Hydroponics methods include aeroponics, which involves misting crop roots and using even less water than the standard approach.
Flood and drain, or ebb and flow, pumps water into the crops periodically and then drains them. NFT (nutrient film technique) whereby a shallow nutrient solution spills down through and down the sides of tubing in which the crops grow.
“We feel like it’s an advantage,” Yoder said. “We can sterilize our growing medium. It can be quite productive.”
Jordan has for 13 years managed Fresh Harvest Hydroponics, supplying restaurants with lettuce, cucumbers, micro-ingredients and more. Restaurants, along with commercial growers like him, are more often these days producing hydroponically grown crops, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Yoder’s hydroponics farm is set inside a 12,000-square-foot greenhouse on a 200-acre family farm that he operates with son Lowell.
The men grow tomatoes that Delvin Yoder says fit nicely with the niche at his farm, where he also grows soybeans and offers a you-pick strawberry patch.
He sells the tomatoes wholesale and out of a retail market that is located on the site.
Within Yoders’ greenhouse are 30 foot-by-100 foot and 30 foot-by-120 foot installments.
“We still have some pests, and that can make a difference in how productive we are,” he said.
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