“Hydroponics saves you 80 per cent of irrigation water and gives you crops for 10 months of the year.”
Nasser Al Zaabi, a successful farmer who has 33,000 square metres of farm in Al Khatem, the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi emirate, was surprised to see his guests on Thursday.
Dozens of delegates from the recently concluded Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture paid a visit to him after coming to know about most sustainable farming solutions being used in a desert area like Abu Dhabi.
Al Zaabi’s vegetables farm is using the hydroponics technology, considered most suitable for our harsh agricultural conditions, poor in water, soil and climate.It was introduced to Abu Dhabi farmers in 2011 by the Abu Dhabi Farmers Services Centre (ADFSC).
> Total farms 24,000
> Greenhouse farms 7,600
> Hydroponics farms 1,000
“Hydroponics saves you 80 per cent of irrigation water and gives you crops for 10 months of the year,” Dr Ismail Al Hossani, agricultural consultant at ADFSC, told Khaleej Times.
There are two main types of hydroponics, the solution culture and the medium culture. The first uses just water mixed with nutrients, while the second has a solid medium for the roots such as sand, gravel or peat. Al Zaabi has gone for the second type for his farm. At least half a dozen green houses are lined up in his farm, since hydroponics, which uses less pesticide, require growing plants in controlled temperature areas.
In each of these greenhouses, which are protected from insects by several thick plastic curtains, there is a massive fan that keeps the temperature at optimum level.
“The weather can be 50 degrees outside in the height of summer, but thanks to new greenhouse technology, the temperature will remain a steady 28 degrees, the optimal temperature for year-round growing of crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers,” said Basem Al Khawaldeh, ADFSC’s Acting Farming Section Head.
Al Zaabi grows, tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum and eggplants in his farm. The taste of a sun ripen tomato growing in nutrient rich soil may never be quite the same as the greenhouse tomato growing with only basic nutrients but hydroponics makes sense environmentally and economically.
If he once used 10,000 gallons of water for each irrigation of his outdoor farm, the green house hydroponics only requires 600 gallons, and even that is recyclable.
“There is a big tank of water outside the with an electrical pump, which pumps water to the greenhouses for five minutes, every half an hour. Since the plants don’t grow in soil, there is no absorption, so most of this water returns to the tank through gravitational force,” said Dr. Hossani.
“After one week a new water solution with nutrients is placed in the tank and the old one is used to irrigate the palm trees outside,” added Dr. Hossani.
However, it is very expensive. If it costs about Dh30,000 to Dh50,000 to set up a greenhouse farm, a hydroponic farm would cost around Dh250,000 to establish.”
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics has been around since the 18th century, when scientists had discovered that plants don’t necessarily need soil to grow. All they need from soil is the minerals, which may be provided through nutrients dissolved in water. So this agricultural technique is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. There are two main types of hydroponics, the solution culture and the medium culture. The first uses just water mixed with nutrients, while the second has a solid medium for the roots such as sand, gravel or peat (decayed vegetation).