Diversifying your farm through hydroponics

Can growing hydroponic produce be a source of alternative revenue for your operation?

You’ve probably heard of hydroponics before, but then never gave it much thought. Or you know all about it, but it’s not for you. But what if it could be? What if adding a hydroponic growing system could be a way to diversify your operation? 

The future of agriculture is currently clouded. Drastic swings in weather, rising labour costs, increasing interest rates, trade disputes, to name a few, dim a bright future. It’s useful to think about what can complement your existing operation in a way that doesn’t take up too much time or resources as a way to manage risk. Adding a hydroponic shipping container farm in your existing farm is an option and here are five reasons why: 

1. Year-round profitable growing

Indoor hydroponic growing systems are not vulnerable to fluctuations in weather and can operate all year round. Being able to grow produce all year round presents an opportunity to mitigate cash flow with an all seasons business. In addition to being unresponsive to weather fluctuations, hydroponics can excel in communities where soil conditions are poor or space is limited. These systems are sturdy and automated, with a minimal learning curve to operate one. A container farm could be an opportunity for a next-generation grower looking to add a venture to the operation that is solely their own. But while these systems can operate anywhere and everywhere, it’s important to calculate the costs based on your situation to see if it makes economic sense. 

2. Reduced inputs 

A hydroponic shipping container farm operates like a closed greenhouse, so there are no pests and no weeds. Growers don’t need to worry about pesticides, herbicides, or the costs associated with those inputs either. Not having to use crop chemicals also means that other concerns, such as nutrient runoff or specific crop rotation, are also mitigated. Also, container farms are less labour intensive, averaging about 10 to 15 hours of work per week.

3. Less land and water is needed

A shipping container takes up less space than an acre. Plants can be grown more efficiently in less space and 1,800 planting slots can yield up to 230 lbs of produce per week. Do you have a spot in your field that isn’t yielding up to expectations? You can double the returns of the spot if you drop a portable farm on it (or place it within easy walking distance). 

In a hydroponic system, the base is water instead of soil. Nutrient-enriched water feeds plants grown in a closed system where water is recirculated. Less water is used overall and a hydroponic container farm uses almost 95 percent less water than a conventional soil farm. Simply put, a hydroponic system gets by with less. 


4. It’s not just lettuce

Container farming is not only able to produce a giant container of lettuce. These container systems are sophisticated and can grow 140 different varieties of greens, microgreens and high-end herbs as well. Have a specific green in mind? See if it’s in the Cultivars Guide and can be grown in a hydroponic system. 

5. Boost the local economy

If the operation is close to a city centre, nearby restaurants, grocers, and local customers are a source of potential demand for the greens being grown. Conscientious consumers care beyond the bottom line and there are many benefits to supporting local. Purchasing from local suppliers allows a business to reinvest in their local economy, minimize pollution from transportation, and reduce their overall environmental footprint. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture conducted a survey on consumer attitudes and found that Canadians have overwhelming support for food grown and processed in Canada over food imported from other countries. More consumers want to buy local - is supply keeping up with this demand? A hydroponic container farm can work anywhere if there is a demand from its local community - even up in isolated northern communities. In fact, isolated rural areas are less likely to have access to fresh, local greens a container farm can provide. In areas where there’s less choice it pays to be an early adopter. For example, one grower in Bruderheim, Alberta., plans to market their hydroponic greens to nearby grocers and high-end restaurants in Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan, Edmonton, and east-central Alberta. It’s worth it for growers to call local businesses and gauge demand when considering their own system.

All these big picture advantages for hydroponics are great, but at the end of the day it has to fit your situation. If you’re interested in learning more, talk to someone and find out specific information for your situation to see if there’s an opportunity.

Stephanie Gordon