Today, an increasing number of people are demanding locally-produced, organic food. For this reason, hydroponics has become a popular and desirable business model for many contemporary farmers. Running a hydroponics operation for the purpose of generating an income is referred to as commercial hydroponics.
In this article, we’ll look at what we mean by commercial hydroponics along with the best systems.
What is Commercial Hydroponics?
Thanks to cloud technology, hydroponic farming has a lot of potential for economic viability, and can be an excellent food supply option for urban areas. Not only is a commercial hydroponics operation advantageous for the business owner, but the society as a whole can also benefit significantly.
A few benefits of a successful commercial hydroponics operation are:
- Automated harvests and controls mean that hydroponics is less labor-intensive
- Economies of scale help produce more crops in less time
- Lower consumption of energy and water leads to lower operational costs
- The procedure helps produce higher quality crops, thereby adding value for the buyers
- Abandoned buildings can be repurposed and help improve the local marketplace
- People are willing to pay for healthier and more organic crops
- Efficiency-optimizing technology is available and accessible
- The crops are grown in urban areas, which helps reduce the shipping or transportation costs
Which Hydroponics System is Best for Commercial Use?
- Ebb and Flow:
The Ebb and Flow system is also referred to as ‘Flood and Drain’, and is a commonly-used commercial hydroponic system. This hydroponic system needs to grow medium. The nutrient-rich solution will periodically flood the root zones, and then return to the reservoir. Once a cycle is complete, this solution will drain outwards again.
The two main subtypes of an Ebb and Flow hydroponics system are ‘re-circulating’ and ‘drain to waste’. The latter requires you to constantly fill it with new nutrient solutions. A re-circulating system, on the other hand, can continue to reuse a particular nutrient solution until it becomes excessively diluted.
An Ebb and Flow system requires less space than most other hydroponic systems, which makes it a good choice for hydroponics farmers who do not have the luxury of space. This is also a good option for anyone looking for a system that is inexpensive.
Another common type of commercial hydroponic system is the DWC (Deep Water Culture) system. This system works by permanently suspending the roots into a nutrient-rich solution. In other words, there are no flooding and draining cycles involved.
This system has an extremely simple mechanism, since it does not involve any intervals. However, you will need an air stone and air pump to keep the oxygen flowing towards the root zone. Otherwise, your plants run the risk of drowning.
A DWC system is quite large, which means that you will need plenty of space. In addition, since this system has a higher up-front cost, it is recommended for farmers with a healthier budget.
Besides, since a DWC system produces larger crops and at good speed, you will need to prepare yourself accordingly.
- Nutrient Film technique:
The third type of system that is effective for commercial hydroponics is the NFT (nutrient film technique) system.
The NFT system normally does not require grow medium for the crops – only net pots that will make the roots stick out. This is due to the fact that a Nutrient Film system keeps running the nutrient solutions through the roots. The mechanism is quite simple but extremely ingenious, as it allows the roots to take in copious amounts of oxygen, leading to bigger and healthier crops.
The plants in a NFT system are placed inside a growing channel. Underneath this lightly-sloped channels reside a pump and water container, which send water towards the higher end of the growing channel. The water will flow downwards (creating the nutrient ‘film), meeting all the plant roots on its way to the container. This is an easy system to set up, and you can make it as small or big as you want. Having said that, the NFT system works particularly well for smaller crops, like lettuce.
Is Commercial Hydroponics Profitable?
Even though the costs of setting up a commercial hydroponics farm are often high, the year-round, high-quality harvest is definitely worth the price and trouble. Not only will a hydroponics farm cover your initial costs, but it will offer you a steady stream of year-round income and profits.
Commercial hydroponics farming is a lot more profitable and lucrative than its traditional counterparts: where a conventional farmland can fetch you around $15,000 to $35,000 per year, a single acre of hydroponically-farmed land can earn you an annual $200,000 to $300,000.
Hydroponics techniques enable you to grow high-value crops like cucumbers, strawberries, and tomatoes. Due to the high perpetual demand for these crops, along with the organic and premium-quality nature of hydroponically-grown crops, farmers get to charge a premium price from their customers.
What Are the Most Profitable Plants to Grow Hydroponically?
Lettuce, much like other leafy greens, is easy and inexpensive to grow, and therefore has a larger profit margin.
The seeds of a lettuce are quick to germinate, and the plant does not take long to take off. Generally, lettuce is ready for harvest in around 3 to 4 weeks. Moreover, if you constantly turn the crop over, you will be able to sell high-quality lettuce throughout the year. It is best to package lettuce (particularly loose-leaf types like butter-crunch) with the roots intact, so that the leaves stay healthy for longer.
In addition, since lettuce does not require pesticides or other chemicals, the cost of growing lettuce is particularly low. This makes lettuce an excellent cash-cow, particularly for hydroponics farmers who are in the initial stages of their commercial venture. This also applies to other leafy-greens like swiss-chard or lettuce.
Microgreens, like lettuce, are extremely affordable to grow, since they do not require intensive lighting (they can easily be grown with fluorescent lights). Harvest takes around a fortnight, and cutting the plant only requires a pair of good scissors.
Restaurant chefs and upscale grocers will make excellent repeat customers. In addition, the high nutrient content present in microgreens make them a very desirable crop for both naturopaths and natural-medicine proponents. Fresh microgreens can fetch you around $20 to $50 per pound, depending upon the local demand.
Hydroponically-grown strawberries are in insane demand these days, and you can certainly cash on this trend. The only downside is that strawberries take a fair bit of time to grow. However, once ready, they can be prolific producers.
One key reason behind the high profitability of strawberries is their ability to thrive in vertical systems. This means that it is possible to stack numerous strawberry plants in a vertical fashion, which can help preserve space for other, less flexible plants.
For people living in cold climates, buying strawberries during the winter can take a real toll on the wallet. However, with a hydroponic garden, you can grow your own strawberries and even make good money selling them. If that is not enough, the inclusion of strawberries will add to the color and beauty of your hydroponic garden.
Radish seeds have a germination rate of approximately 80%, which makes radish a highly economical growing option for hydroponic farmers. Radish is also extremely versatile, and is often a key addition in pesto or salads. In addition, radish leaves are rich in Vitamin C.
Radishes take around 15-60 days to harvest, and can sell for around $2 to $5 per pound. It is important to cut the radishes as soon as they are ready for harvest. If you delay the cutting, the crop can crack and become hollow, and go from being sweet to bitter.
Herbs can add a great deal of taste and health to any meal, and are therefore sought after by restaurant chefs and everyday cooks. Cilantro takes around 3-4 weeks to harvest, and can sell for a decent $6 per pound. Basil is another very versatile herb, and is used in a wide range dishes. Due to its high demand, basil can be sold for a whopping $12 per pound. Bay leaves, meanwhile, can fetch you $30 for each pound.
Other herbs that combine minimal effort and high revenue are dill, mint, chives, and tarragon. Ginseng is perhaps the most expensive herb, and is sold for upwards of $500 per pound. Ginseng, being a root vegetable, is slightly harder to grow hydroponically. However, once you have the right ginseng-growing system in place, your profitability will skyrocket.
How Do I Start Up A Commercial Hydroponics Farm?
Starting a commercial hydroponics farm will require you to adhere to the following steps:
- Create a business plan
- Convert the business into a legal entity
- Get registered for taxes
- Open your business bank account and obtain a business credit card
- Establish the accounting for your business
- Obtain the required licenses and permits for the hydroponics business
- Obtain the required insurances for your business
- Establish a brand for your business
- Create a business website
- Establish a business phone number
Final Thoughts on Commercial Hydroponics
To sum up, commercial hydroponics can prove to be a lucrative business venture, and one that is not at all difficult or expensive to establish. If you are looking to set up a commercial hydroponic system, we hope that this guide proved to be a useful reference point for you.