Hydroponic Farming Business: The Complete Guide 2021

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Conventional farming requires a lot of land area, investment, and resources. In recent years an Israeli farming technique is revolutionizing the agriculture industry.

Known as hydroponic farming, the technique uses less water, land and can be done anywhere.

This guide will help you understand the fundamentals of hydroponic farming and how you can create a business plan.

What Is Hydroponic Farming?

Hydroponic farming is a soil-less farming method that originated in Israel. The core concept of hydroponic farming is growing crops directly in nutrient-rich water rather than soil.

Hydroponics is practiced in a temperature-controlled environment like a greenhouse or an indoor vertical farm.

Fruits and vegetables cultivated using hydroponics are naturally organic and of superior quality.

Since the environment is temperature-controlled and sheltered, there is minimal loss of water due to evaporation.

Additionally, in hydroponic techniques like NFT, plants are grown in pipes with running water. This saves a lot of space and enables you to create a vertical array of crops.

Various micro and macronutrients required by the crop are dissolved in water. That water is then circulated through the roots of the plants 24/7. This allows the plants to grow faster and healthier.

Additionally, indoor farms utilize grow lights that provide an optimum environment for the plants throughout the day.

The Future of Hydroponic Farming in India

Hydroponic farming is a relatively new concept in India. However, several companies offer training and have set up multiple vertical farms using hydroponics.

This method of farming is hailed as the farming of the future. Due to rapid industrialization and increasing population, conventional farming methods are unable to keep up.

In that regard, hydroponics fits perfectly into the urban landscape.

The hydroponics market is expected to grow by approximately 13.53% by 2027. As of now, India imports around 85% of exotic vegetables. Through soil-less farming, this has a huge potential to change.

For example, hydroponic farming can yield 300-400 tons of lettuce per year compared to 9-10 tons of soil-based farming.

Why Choose Hydroponic Farming?

Hydroponics is a modern method of farming. It utilizes technology to the maximum to provide the best possible results. Here are some of the most prominent advantages and disadvantages of this method:

Advantages

  1. Higher Quality Yield: Plants grown in hydroponics are organic. Since no soil is involved, there are no pests and diseases. Due to the roots being directly exposed to nutrient-rich water, the yield quality is far superior as well.
  2. Less Land Usage: Hydroponic farming utilizes less than half the land compared to soil-based farming. By utilizing vertical farming, hydroponics can also be done in a small 30 x 40 sq. ft. terrace.
  3. Less Water Use: Hydroponics uses 1/10th of the water needed for soil-based farming. Water is circulated in a closed-loop system, which makes water loss due to evaporation and weather changes obsolete.
  4. Faster Production: In this method of farming, the crops do not have to rely on natural weather, water, pests, or any other external factors. Due to this, they produce yield much faster.

Disadvantages

  1. Learning Curve: Hydroponics is a completely new method of farming. Therefore, you will have to undertake certification courses to fully understand the intricate technology behind it. This can present a challenge for many.
  2. Electricity Reliant: Since water has to be circulated 24/7, the farm is completely dependent on electricity. A power cut of even half an hour can damage or destroy your crops.
  3. Market: The hydroponics market is very niche. Since the yield is organic, it is priced higher. Additionally, vegetables like lettuce and cherry tomatoes have a smaller customer base in India.
  4. High Cost: This comes as no surprise as hydroponic farming requires plenty of equipment. Setting up a greenhouse, water tanks, generators or power backup, water channels, etc. can all be expensive. The more sophisticated farm you opt for, the higher will be its setup cost. It is possible to start a minimal small-scale farm but that significantly extends the ROI of the farm.

Types of Hydroponic systems

There are six main types of hydroponic systems:

Wick System

The Wick system is the most basic type of hydroponics that can be set up by anyone anywhere. It does not require motors or pumps. Instead, it uses nylon wicks to transport nutrients to the plants.

The system is quite simple.

Plants are placed in a fertile medium like coconut coir or expanded clay. A spongy rope or nylon wick is wrapped around the plant and run through a reservoir of nutrient solution.

The nutrients are transported to the medium through the wick. The medium absorbs and locks the nutrients and slowly releases them to the plant.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Deep Water Culture is an old and classic hydroponics system. In this system, the roots are submerged in nutrient-rich water tubs.

To provide air circulation, an air pump is installed at the base of the tank (just like an aquarium).

This keeps helps with oxygen exchange while providing essential nutrients to the roots. This system allows for growing multiple plants in a single grow tank.

Nutrient-Film Technique (NFT)

The Nutrient-Film Technique is a new and advanced method of hydroponics. In an NFT system, the plant’s roots are exposed to a thin film of nutrient water.

The roots of the plant are passed through a long tubular grow tank in which the nutrient water is circulated constantly.

This allows the roots to absorb nutrients directly from the flowing water. Since the roots are not submerged into the water, it solves the issue of aeration as well.

Aeroponic System

Aeroponics is the most advanced hydroponics system in the world. It utilizes parts of various systems and combines them into an ingenious method of farming.

In aeroponics, the air is the primary medium for growing crops. In a grow tank, the roots are suspended in the air. Nutrient water is sprayed into the tank as mist.

This significantly reduces water wastage and gives plenty of room for the roots to breathe in. Aeroponics also cuts costs as no medium is required for the plants.

Drip System

The drip system has become quite popular and is useful when growing large plants. The drip system is similar to conventional drip irrigation.

You put plants in an absorbent medium like coconut coir and run drips to each plant.

The drips or sprinklers provide the medium with the nutrient water. The medium then slowly releases the nutrients to the plant. This system is an advanced form of the wick system.

Ebb and Flow System

An Ebb system is an ingenious way of saving electricity, water, and providing oxygen to the roots of your plants. In this system, the nutrient solution is not constantly circulated throughout the roots. Instead, the circulation/irrigation happens in cycles.

There is one 15 minute cycle every two hours of daylight. Therefore, in a day, the farm will receive about 9-16 cycles of irrigation. The reason this is done is during the dry phase, the plants get room to breathe and oxygenate.

Creating a Business Plan

Creating a business plan is essential for every startup. More so with an agricultural setup like hydroponics.

If you want to apply for a business loan, having a detailed business plan is necessary.

Market Research

Surveying the market, understanding your target demographic and industry is the first step. Common vegetables like lettuce or peppers may or may not be in demand in your vicinity. Therefore, scouting for potential clients and analyzing the industry trend is extremely important.

Training

Hydroponic farming is a modern and new method of farming. Several factors can determine how well your farm will run. Hydroponics relies on the constant flow of water and stable temperature conditions.

Therefore, a small mistake can jeopardize the entire farm. By enrolling in a certificate course, you will not only become experienced at hydroponics farming but can also include it as merit in your business plan.

Crop Selection & Land Acquisition

The next step you should take is to finalize your crop. The most popular plant grown in hydroponics is lettuce. Calculate the area required based on the number of rows of crops that you will be planting.

This will give you a rough estimate of the area required for farming. Based on that, you can lease out or rent a commercial property for hydroponic farming.

Equipment Required

There are several types of hydroponic systems and each system has its own specific set of requirements. However, some common equipment or materials needed to set up a hydroponic farm are:

  1. A temperature-controlled greenhouse or indoor shelter
  2. Power backup
  3. A closed-loop frame of water channels to circulate water through the plants
  4. Water tanks
  5. The nutrient solution for hydroponics
  6. Grow lights

Creating a Business Plan

Once you have registered your business name, conducted a market survey, and undergone training, you can begin creating your business plan. You can refer to this template.

One of the most important factors in your business plan would be the cost breakdown. Thus, incorporate the setup and running costs associated with the farm. Followed by product branding, marketing, and ROI strategy.

Best plants for hydroponics

Almost all types of crops can be grown using hydroponics. From potatoes to berries, it is possible to grow even large vines. However, in India, some of the most popular crop choices for hydroponics are:

  1. Lettuce
  2. Cherry Tomatoes
  3. Peppers/Capsicum
  4. Strawberries
  5. Kale
  6. Basil
  7. Blueberries
  8. Cabbage
  9. Flowers
  10. Medicinal Herbs

Training & Resources

As mentioned above, undergoing professional training in hydroponics is essential. Given below are some resources that will help you:

Books

  1. Hydroponics Essential Guide by Andy Jacobson
  2. How to Hydroponics by Keith F. Roberto
  3. Hydroponic Tomatoes by Howard M. Resh

Courses

  1. Hydroponics Lab Research Foundation – Online Training Course (Link)
  2. Hydrilla Workshops (Link)
  3. CityGreens Training (Link)
  4. CV Hydro (Link)
  5. Belesiri (Link)

Experts & Consultants

  1. Hydrilla (Link)
  2. Kisaan Mitrr (Link)
  3. Belesiri (Link)
  4. Rise Hydroponics (Link)
  5. Brio Hydroponics (Link)
  6. Acqua Farms (Link)

Conclusion

Hydroponics is an upcoming farming technology. It is also possible to completely automate the farm. Using automatic nutrient solution dispensers, timers, temperature control units, etc. you can run the entire farm from a central computer. However, do not be deterred by the high cost of investment. It is possible to start small and slowly scale up.

Take this story for instance. A Chennai man began vertical hydroponics by growing 6,000 plants in just 80 sq. ft of space! There are several perks of such an advanced method. Since the produce is organic and of higher quality, the profit is also high. Therefore, adopting this farming system will future-proof the industry.

This post is also available in: English Hindi Tamil

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