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Can Hydroponics Aid in Carbon-Negative Farming?

Agriculture contributes significantly to carbon emissions. According to the EPA, agriculture accounted for approximately 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. These emissions are frequently caused by livestock, agricultural soils, and rice production. However, the problem is much larger than this figure suggests.

Shivam Dwivedi
Carbon-negative farming entails employing best practises that remove more carbon from the atmosphere than the farm emits.
Carbon-negative farming entails employing best practises that remove more carbon from the atmosphere than the farm emits.

In traditional agriculture, farm emissions are only the beginning of the story. Crops may be transported long distances after harvesting to reach grocery stores in areas where agriculture is scarce or certain crops are out of season. A long transportation chain results in increased greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping process.

 

Fortunately, our engineers are aware of the issue and are actively working toward a greener future by reducing our carbon footprint within our vertical farming systems.

Carbon-negative farming, also known as carbon farming, is any farming method that absorbs more carbon than it produces. In our world, the basic cycle of organic carbon production and absorption is as follows: Every time we breathe, humans and animals exhale carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants absorb carbon dioxide.

Every year, plants absorb a lot of carbon, but most of it ends up cycling back into the atmosphere due to over-tilling and erosion. Carbon, in and of itself, is not the issue. It is a necessary component for all life on Earth to survive. The problem arises when too much carbon enters the atmosphere and absorbs the sun's heat. Instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere, one of the best places to store it is in the soil.

 

Unfortunately, we lose carbon into the atmosphere every time traditional soil-based farmers turn over our soil. Over-tilling also hastens the surface degradation of organic matter in the soil, which would otherwise decay and release carbon back into the ground.

Add to that the effects of wind and water erosion on our topsoil, and we've got a major problem on our hands. Carbon-negative farming practices, in short, seek to reverse this problem by storing carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

The exciting thing to remember is that agriculture is our best option for not only slowing but also reversing carbon emissions. Carbon-negative farming entails employing best practices that remove more carbon from the atmosphere than the farm emits. If we can do this efficiently, we may be able to effectively reverse one of our world's most serious threats.

Composting is one common method for accomplishing this. Compost increases the amount of carbon stored in the soil, improving the quality of our precious topsoil and creating carbon storage up to two metres below the surface. Surprisingly, it does this when only the top foot of soil is applied, implying that much of the carbon storage is safe from erosion and tilling.

 

Grazing is another practise being investigated by carbon farmers. This appears counterintuitive given that grazing cows and other livestock are among the major sources of carbon emissions in agriculture. But the reason this problem exists is that we've been grazing incorrectly. Cows and livestock can actually improve their grazing land and soil by using rotational grazing strategies.

A third option is to grow crops without tilling the soil at all. What makes this possible? Using hydroponic systems to grow plants without soil. Because plants are grown directly in water, hydroponic farming absorbs carbon from the atmosphere without disturbing the earth. Not only that, but because hydroponic farms can grow indoors with little space required, they can thrive in urban environments or areas where traditional farming methods are not suitable. Indoor urban farms solve transportation issues while also eliminating soil erosion.

Indeed, hydroponics is an extremely sustainable method of producing the food required to feed a growing population. Because hydroponic plants are grown indoors, they can thrive in places where traditional farms cannot. This means we can bring local crops into communities where fresh crops are scarce, reducing the carbon footprint of transporting our favourite produce across the country or around the world. Because the water used in the system can be recycled multiple times, the process uses far less water than traditional growing methods.

 

While vertical farms still require and produce carbon in order to function, is there a way to sequester it from other entities in order to reuse carbon? Is hydroponic farming, and carbon farming in general, the key to addressing climate change? The truth is that we are still in the research phase. Even if it isn't the final solution, carbon-negative farming and hydroponics are a step in the right direction.

 

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