Global Food, Health, and Society

A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Aeroponics: A Compliment to Hydroponics and the Food System of Space

Aeroponics, the process of growing plants in an air environment without the use of soil or a medium, has caught the attention of farmers and space voyagers alike. The process, which entails spraying a suspended plant’s dangling roots with nutrient-rich water, takes place within a controlled environment, with little exposure to outside influences. As a result, the environment boosts plant development, growth, health, and flowering. Aeroponics is often coupled with hydroponics, creating a blissful relationship that advances plant yield and turnover rate. In the 21st Century, alternative food systems are constantly being researched; moreover, aeroponics has the potential to eradicate current commercial food procedures, due to its ease of cultivation and quick crop rotation.

Current plant farming techniques are old and out of date. In order to understand the potential advantages of aeroponics systems, it is first important to analyze the current forms of farming in the United States. The over-reliance of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers is slowly degrading the planet. GMOs entail ethical and moral issues, and the spread of disease is common. Standard cultivation methods increase greenhouse gases, contribute to land degradation, and decrease biodiversity. According to CGIAR, 20% of global land is being lost and cultivation is responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Change is needed.

There are several advantages to areoponics. Plants are grown inside without the sun or growing medium, suggesting the controlled environment can be easily manipulated to suit the needs of different plants or buyers. This growing system has faster growing cycles, reliable outcomes and yields, predictable results, and food safety. “With aeroponics, a grower can take the exact same seed from the field and grow it in half the time as a traditional field farmer, leading to 390 times more productivity per square foot than a commercial field farm.” (AgriTech) At organizations such as AeroFarms, water usage is cut by 95% from tradition field farming. Further, without the sun, precise LEDs are used to display the perfect light for photosynthesis for each species of plant. Frequency, light intensity, and wave spectrum are all carefully calculated.

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The main advantages to aeroponics are found in the roots of the plant. Without a medium of soil to provide nutrients for the plant, growth is encouraged from the oxygen in the root zone. Conducted in air combined with micro-droplets of water, the process guarantees maturity for the plant as long as the appropriate nutrients are added to the mist. The aeration of the nutrient solution delivers an excessive amount of oxygen to the roots of the plant, reducing possibilities of disease and pathogen exposure. According to NASA, “Since the growing environment is clean and sterile, it greatly reduces the chances of spreading plant disease and infection commonly found in soil and other growing media.” Effective aeroponic systems also provide sufficient CO2 levels for productive photosynthesis. With proper resources and funding, plant growth in an aeroponic system is endless.

The indoor environment affiliated with aeroponics eliminates threats from outside climates. Climate change in the 21st Century increases the chance of severe weather, precipitation rates, and wildlife migrations. Wildfires, insect infestations, and droughts are all possible risks associated with outside farming. Revenue and success for farmers often rely on the weather throughout the year. The possibilities of world dominated by aeroponics offers a constant flow of food for all regions of the world. Aeroponic farms are located inside, reducing square milage needed for an immense amount of food production. The eradication of world hunger may lie within the parameters of aeroponics.

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The advantages of aeroponics have been recognized in the United States and NASA has provided generous funding for its development. Plants were first bought into space in the 1960s, with the launch of Sputnik and the Discoverer. Wheat, peas, and spring onions were several subjects brought into space to research plant growth and activity outside the atmosphere. Specifically, plant growth was examined when gravity was altered. Minimal water usage, excellent plant growth, and effectiveness in low gravity makes aeroponics a leading contender for food production in space. When in space, water availability is reduced substantially. The low solution volumes for water and nutrients that is needed in aeroponics, coupled with the incredibly fast growth rate proves perfect for usage in space.

The future of aeroponics is exciting. Government funding coupled with the efforts of interested farmers allows for the production of an effective aeroponics food system that promotes plant growth and turnover rate. Scientific research has proven the advantages of aeroponics, from the reduced water usage needed for misting the plants to increased growth of vegetables such as tomatoes and cauliflower. Through aeroponics and other similar farming methods such as hydroponics or aquaponics, agriculture is shifting to a time where environmentally conscious farms and safe foods are considered most important.

 

Sources:

Dunbar, Brian. “Progressive Plant Growing Is a Blooming Business.” NASA, NASA, 23 Apr. 2007, www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/aeroponic_plants.html.

“More Agricultural Technology Resources.” What Is Vertical Farming? | AgriTechTomorrow, 8 May 2018, www.agritechtomorrow.com/article/2018/05/growing-with-hydroponics-aeroponics-and-aquaponics/10733/.

Frison, Emile. “Current Agricultural Practices Stand in the Way of Sustainability: It’s Past Time to Diversify.” Water, Land and Ecosystems, 4 July 2016, wle.cgiar.org/thrive/2016/07/04/current-agricultural-practices-stand-way-sustainability-it’s-past-time-diversify.

2 Comments

  1. Jack,

    I loved reading your post on aeroponics. The innovation within the field seems really interesting, and having alternative methods of agriculture is very important because of our worsening climate. I hope that governments and private corporations alike take advantage of aeroponics to maximize crop yield and feed the world population with more ease.

    Yash

  2. Great job Jack! I thought your post was really interesting and I learned a lot from it. I think that aeroponics can have a real impact on society going forward and could improve climates in dense cities or urban areas. It could be a great way to make even the most polluted places a little greener. It’s also a really interesting way to grow plants as you have shown.

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