April 14, 2024

Hydroponic growers able to survive during drought conditions

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Drought conditions across Minnesota are having a significant impact on farmers, growers and other crop producers. But for hydroponic growers like Revol Greens in Medford, the lack of rain is not as much of an issue.

In a hydroponic system, plants like lettuce and herbs are grown without soil, and Revol vice president of sales and marketing Brendon Krieg says Revol operates a 10-acre greenhouse that uses a hybrid hydroponic system — meaning they use some soil to grow crops.

Because it is a closed system, Krieg says they save a lot of water.

“We grow with 90 to 95 less water than traditional field growing,” he said. “There is no waste in the hydroponic system, so all the water that we bring into the facility and used for growing the product is taken up by the actual product. The only water that really leaves our facility is in the form of the lettuce and product that we grow.”

Krieg says most of the water it uses for growing crops is rainwater and snowmelt collected off of the greenhouse’s roof, and despite the drought, the company hasn’t needed to dip into its backup well water this summer.

“(The drought) hasn’t affected us a lot; it’s obviously been a challenge for a lot of growers and farmers across the state,” Krieg said. “But, fortunately, we had a good supply of rain and snowmelt in our retention ponds and are still actually over 50% full in our retention ponds.”

Krieg says he believes hydroponics is the future of food production, especially in times where water conservation is crucial, KSNI-AM reported.

“Just being able to control your water source and give it to the plants exactly when they need it is very important for building an efficient system and food supply chain,” Krieg said.

However, there are some barriers that could keep producers from setting up a hydroponics greenhouse. One, Krieg says, is the upfront cost of building such a facility.

“And then, it’s difficult to make the economics work on a lot of produce items,” Krieg said. “We grow leafy greens and lettuce in a greenhouse mainly because most of that product comes from California, it’s got a short shelf life, it’s impacted by the transportation costs and time.

“So, there’s a lot of competitive advantages that allow us to make it work cost-wise. But, for example, potatoes or something that is growing in multiple regions may be a challenge to move into a direction like this.”

Currently, 72% of Minnesota is experiencing severe drought, with parts of Stearns and Morrison counties in the extreme drought zone.