A World Tour of the Diverse Benefits of Hydroponics Vertical Horizon Hydroponics

A World Tour of the Diverse Benefits of Hydroponics

In this article, I thought I would take a look around the world and discuss the differing positive impacts that hydroponics could have in different parts of the globe.  Most of these are inevitable, some are possible, but these are the the reasons I see to be hopeful, that we will see meaningful improvements thanks to this agricultural revolution that is now gaining traction.

My home in the UK:

The UK is famously wet and crowded.  Approximately 70% of the land in the UK is classified as agricultural land. This includes both arable land (land used for the cultivation of crops) and pasture (land used for the grazing of livestock). Agriculture in the UK is highly efficient in terms of land use, but this efficiency comes at a price.  Around 20 years ago, it was common practice to leave around 7m or 20 feet from the edge of a crop to the hedgerows to leave space for nature.  This has become increasingly rare as the need to drive yields up has taken over this space.  Research is continually advancing on growing crops such as corn and wheat hydroponically, and once this becomes commercially viable, we could see the need for agricultural land eventually drop by between 50 and 90%.  This also depends upon other research areas, such as precision fermentation replacing dairy and meat proteins, which appear to be advancing even faster than hydroponics.

The ultimate possibility here is that  up to 60% of land in the UK could become available for other uses, much of which could be returned to forests and wild grasslands.  The simple change of how we grow our food, could profoundly change even a country like the UK, that has plenty of water.  Already, much of the lettuce, tomatoes and herbs that are cunsumed in the UK have been grown in hydroponic vertical farms, so we are on our way!


North America:

Having been lucky enough to live on the West Coast of the US for a couple of years, I was able to visit the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.  For anyone who hasn't visited, the Grand Canyon is so big, that you can turn away from it for a few seconds and then be genuinely shocked by its scale when you look back again.  From my experience there didn't seem to be a limit to how many times you can feel this phenomenon.  That's the best way I can articulate the sheer scale of work that the Colorado River has done over millions of years. 

In early 2022, I learned that the Colorado river has only flowed as far as the Pacific Ocean once in the last 30 years.  I was struck by my sudden ability to visualise the scale of human water usage and this story lives on Vertical Horizon's homepage as a reminder of my motivation to help accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture and domestic food production, as a meaningful way to benefit our planet.  Imagine if every State along the Colorado River had enough water to meet their needs in abundance and that this would include Nevada and California, which is certainly not the case today.  The Mississippi river would also be able to feed the Central US for a far wider catchment area than it currently does, allowing for a more even and sustainable distribution of population from East to West.


South America:

The Amazon rainforest is still being destroyed at an alarming rate for agricultural expansion.  This is a mix of animal grazing, and arable land for both production of animal feeds and human food crops.  The 95 - 98% water savings currently achievable with hydroponic growing could halt and reverse this trend, allowing the Amazon Rainforest to recover as  the "Lungs of the World" once again, perhaps achieving much of its rejuvenation as fast as it disappeared.



North Africa:

The Nile is arguably the longest river in the world, originating in Lake Victoria in Uganda and eventually flowing through eight other countries before it reaches Sudan and Egypt, before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.  Except, that due to the amount of dams, irrigation and evaporation through soil-based agriculture, much of the volume does not reach the Mediterranean.  Neither do the majority of rich silts reach the lower stages, reducing the quality of soils for growing. 

Whilst the need for power generation, water and food is undeniable for all those living along the Nile, it is clear that North-eastern African diets, health, power needs, and commerce could be improved for all if food were grown in the region with the aid of hydroponics, saving most of the water that is there.  This could also be the greatest solution to water-related tensions in the region, such as those over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD - pictured) which could provide it's commercial benefits to Ethiopia, whilst actually increasing Ethiopian power and food production, whilst also allowing high water-flow to Sudan and Egypt downstream.



The Mekong River in Asia, starting in the Tibetan Plateau in China to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is home to more freshwater fish than anywhere else on earth, and the river has comparable issues to the Nile.  Parts of the delta have started to dry up in recent years and the fish and the 60 million people that live off the lower parts of the river in Cambodia and Vietnam are at risk.

400 million Chinese people are served by the Yangtze River which has similar issues, caused by human intervention, which have been further exacerbated by droughts in recent years. Over 8,000 square kilometres of farmland has been affected by drought over the six provinces on the Yangtze.  Not only could hydroponic farming help dramatically reduce water needs, it could also provide a solution to the migration of millions from rural China to its rapidly growing mega-cities, by allowing local food production where it is needed the most.


Australia and the Great Barrier Reef

Whilst there are vast expanses of Australia not currently conducive to arable farming that could benefit from hydroponic growing, we will consider how hydroponics could help to save the Great Barrier Reef is by reducing the amount of pesticides that run off of farmland and into the surrounding waterways.

Fertilizers and the pesticides, used to kill pests that can damage crops, can be harmful to the environment, including the Great Barrier Reef, which is a unique habitat to a diverse array of marine life. When fertilizers and pesticides are applied to crops, they are applied in quantities that reflect the wastage and run-off that inevitably occurs as they are washed off of the fields by rain or irrigation, and can enter the surrounding waterways. From there, they are carried by rivers and then currents to the Great Barrier Reef, where they can destroy the marine life that lives there, including bleaching and killing the coral itself.

By growing crops using hydroponics, farmers can reduce their reliance on pesticides, as the controlled environment of a hydroponics system can be more resistant to pests and diseases. This can help to reduce the amount of pesticides that run off of farmland and into the surrounding waterways, which can in turn help to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the negative effects of these chemicals.

I hope that you have found this whistle-stop tour of the globe thought-provoking, and that it has given you reasons to be hopeful.  I would love to hear your thoughts on my musings.

Thanks for reading this one!

Rupert, Founder of Vertical Horizon Hydroponics Ltd.



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