The benefits of elevated hydroponic systems over soil for strawberries
By Hidroponic Systems International
Global strawberry production has grown exponentially in the last decade, with Europe being the continent that has seen the most expansion in production worldwide - now representing 47,7%. Next is North and Central America, with 29,40%.
This huge development is due to the strong increase in its demand, as it is considered a fruit with a high content in vitamin C, almost equal to citrus fruits. (Source: Trade Map)
In Spain, around 93 to 95% of strawberry production is found in the province of Huelva. This is mostly destined to the European markets, which are becoming increasingly more demanding in terms of the conditions and techniques of production.
Production must therefore involve an efficient use of resources and to minimize the impact on the environment caused by this activity.
One of the main plants grown with hydroponics is the strawberry. The hydroponic system in soil is known as semi-hydroponic. The need to rotate crops, developed mainly by family farmers in small areas, has influenced the research into new forms of growth to meet their demands.
One of the alternatives that have been developed through the growing conscience of strawberry producers about the watering and mass use of pesticides has been the production of this fruit in protected areas like the elevated hydroponic system, with which there is lower pest and disease pressure on the plants.
With the growth of strawberries grown using elevated hydroponic systems, we can bring forward the harvest dates compared with traditional systems of growth with this plant. Another great advantage is that we achieve a higher production per square meter, allowing us to increase the planting density.
The traditional intensive production methods create:
- Little control in the use of water and nutrients, creating a large expense and over-exploitation of water resources. The irrigation of strawberries is especially complicated since they are grown under plastic on very sandy soils with low capacity to retain water.
- Simple structures to protect the crops, leaving no control over the ambient conditions.
- Contamination due to agricultural leaching, which has caused great criticism in the environmental aspect.
- Problems to find labor and workers.
All this has led to the development of techniques like the use of overhead hydroponic systems for strawberries which optimize the resources and provide benefits such as:
- Techniques that reduce the contamination of the soil and superficial water through leaching. Operations to disinfect the soil and deep fertilizing are not necessary.
- Better efficiency in the use of water and the possibility of recirculation of drainages.
- Higher quantity and quality of the crop. Better production and performance of the crop.
- Better nutritional control of the crop (thanks to automated localized irrigation)
- This type of production without soil permits growth at any location, allowing production near the distribution points and consumption points, therefore reducing the shipping and environmental impact.
- Reduction in phytosanitary treatments as the plant is aired.
- Improved and optimized working conditions due to the height that the elevated hydroponic system gives when collecting the crop. A reduction in at least 50% of the costs of harvesting.
- There are “super-intensive high technology systems” like the lifting hydroponic system which allows us to maximize the production and use of resources, producing much more in less surface, more rational and respectful towards the environment - up to 200000 plants/Ha.
- Improved Performance and cost-effectiveness of the crop, amongst many others.
Thanks to the “spacer” piece, the soil is moistened in a uniform manner, allowing an adequate colonization of the root system, which in turn leads to optimum development of the exposed area. Disease pressure is reduced in the roots as they grown in a more ventilated area and are not in contact with drainages, therefore not needing phytosanitary products.
As we can see, the growing interest in the berry market over the last years has made the industry develop new tools and production systems that years ago were unthinkable. This has led to a large decrease in labor costs, which is difficult and expensive to achieve due to the working conditions at ground level.
According to “Revista Mercados” in their article on February 2019 about the harvest of strawberries, in the 2019 23,000 positions were offered for workers to collect strawberries in Huelva, but only 970 people replied. This figure is only 4.2% of the unemployed people registered in this area, implying a lack of interest in a province with 25% unemployment.
The development of the hydroponic elevated systems helps producers to be more efficient in terms of quality and quantity.