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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 742: International Conference and Exhibition on Soilless Culture: ICESC 2005

NEW TRENDS IN HYDROPONIC CROP PRODUCTION IN THE U.S.

Author:   D.J. Brentlinger
Keywords:   greenhouse tomatoes, microgreens
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2007.742.3
Abstract:
Hydroponic production in the United States has undergone fairly dramatic changes in recent years. The consumer acceptance of greenhouse grown, and specifically, hydroponic tomatoes, has been phenomenal, with a projected 50% of the fresh tomato market expected to be supplied by greenhouse grown within five years. This is a huge shift away from the tasteless tomatoes offered up by the field growers who make shipping quality the primary factor when determining which varieties of tomatoes to grow. And since consumers are asking for these premium tomatoes, and are willing to pay the premium prices for them, growers are stepping up to the plate to provide them. One of the largest hydroponic growers in the U.S., EuroFresh, is planning significant expansion of their 200 acre plus greenhouse facility to meet this growing demand. Large acreage is being built throughout Mexico and growers in Canada and other countries are gearing up to supply the consumer craving for tomatoes that tast like tomatoes. Other crops too are gaining popularity in the hydroponic arena. Hydroponic lettuces and herbs are becoming more commonplace in supermarkets throughout the U.S. and many small growers are producing small quantities for local sales, offering their product to local grocery stores and farmers markets where they get a high price for what they grow. Organic hydroponic production is another new “niche” that is getting recognition. Systems are being developed that utilize hydroponic methods but meet the Federal Organic Standards (which became law in October of 2002) so as to allow the use of the U.S.D.A. certified organic label on hydroponically grown produce. CropKing Inc., a company specializing in hydroponic growing systems, recently introduced its hydroponic organic growing system for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and will soon be introducing a similar organic hydroponic system for lettuces, herbs, and other leafy crops. By having the organic label growers believe that they’ll be able to focus on an even smaller niche market, but an ever growing and potentially more profitable niche than just hydroponics. Adding the organic label also adds to the retail price, often by 15% to 50%! Brand new crops are being grown hydroponically as well. Microgreens, which are similar to sprouts but are harvested without the roots and which grow several days longer making them larger leaved, and greener, are the latest crop being grown hydroponically and organically. This expensive crop ($1.00 to $1.50 per ounce wholesale!) is currently being found in top quality restaurants but it is beginning to show up in some of the “organic” stores such as Whole Foods. Microgreens are a healthy crop, filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and could eventually capture a share of the $500 million sprout market since they have such intense flavors, unlike sprouts. Finally, although it’s been around for many years, hydroponic forage (green feed for livestock), is getting attention once again… and yes, you guessed it, it’s being grown hydroponically and organically, allowing farmers to offer their beef, lamb, etc., as having been fed organically grown grasses, yet another niche to cater to for the small producer! As improvements in growing technologies and growing systems continue to evolve, and as consumers continue to seek healthier and safer food products, the greenhouse industry and technologies such as hydroponics and organics will continue to grow to meet that ever increasing demand. These new trends in hydroponic crop production promise to keep the industry growing strong well into the future.

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