2019 World Population Prospect reports from the UN forecasts show that India’s population will reach 160 crores by 2050. Feeding this growing population is one of the challenges that India will face in the near future. As per the latest information from Agriculture Census 2015-16, the average size of agricultural holdings has decreased from 2.28 hectares in 1970-71 to 1.08 hectares in 2015-16. Increasing demand for real estate, polluted soil, non-arable soil, etc. makes it difficult to come by cultivable land. These factors have pushed the agricultural sector to seriously consider alternative methods of harvesting produce, soilless farming being one of them. Let’s take a look at this in-depth.
What is soilless farming?
Soilless farming systems, as the name suggests, don’t require soil for growing crops. It is usually divided into three categories – hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. In hydroponics, crops are grown submerged in a nutrient-enriched aqueous solution. In the case of aeroponics, this nutrient solution is directly sprayed onto the plants’ roots. As for aquaponics, it is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture or fish farming. You can read more about these here.
Aeroponics is a great option for places that face water shortages. However, despite its popularity in the west, it is still in its nascent stage in India. Aquaponics is attractive because it allows the farmers to harvest the crops as well as sell the fish. This too is expensive, with average investments being as high as ₹2.5-3 crore per acre. Hydroponics is seen as the most attractive soilless agricultural system of the lot as it can be used to grow crops rapidly in urban areas and in habitats that don’t support conventional agriculture. Apart from using no land, hydroponics also requires no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It does use water, but this water can be recycled. Soilless farming is ideal for growing leafy greens, exotic vegetables, herbs and shrubs.
How can soilless farming become more popular?
Soilless farming methods can be used to grow crops at a commercial level. That being said, it still calls for training and expertise, relatively high capital investment as compared to conventional farming, and high ongoing maintenance costs. Plus it cannot be used to grow cereals and produce that comes from trees. But it is one of the few farming systems that directly address the lack of arable land. Therefore, with the right kind of support, soilless farming can achieve the same level of popularity as traditional horizontal land farming in a few decades. This support can be in the form of Government support and agritech solutions.
In India, the central and state government and the National Horticulture Board (NHB) have subsidized the capital costs for farmers willing to invest in hydroponics. The exact subsidy applicable is different for each state, but it’s still a start. When it comes to agritech, companies like Fasal, Barton Breeze, Rise Hydroponics, etc. are leading in the field of soilless indoor farming. Such companies may very well be the future of soilless farming. Let’s take the example of the agritech heavyweight, Bijak, which enables agri trade between buyers and suppliers across India. They have designed many features on their app specifically to help their customers. Their recent foray into sabzi mandi accounting software was in direct response to the needs of their commission agent user base.
ChargeERP accounting software from Bijak was designed keeping in mind the real-life accounting challenges faced by commission agents. Therefore everything from real-time reports, to remote access to end-to-end encryption has been added to make this cloud-based accounting software as user-friendly as possible. ChargeERP even allows potential users to book free demos in their preferred language by dialing +91 9311341199 or by submitting a request on www.chargeerp.com. One thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that the players in the agricultural sector are open to technology and innovations. All they need is support, education and a bit of handholding to fully embrace changes. With the right support and more exposure, soilless farming too can go mainstream.