Best hydroponic system for strawberries: from cultivation at soil to elevated cultivation
The world production in the cultivation of strawberries has multiplied exponentially in the last decade, Being Europe the continent that has found the most expansion in production worldwide(47,7% of the world’s production). Followed by northern and central America (29,40%) this huge development is due to the strong increase in its demand, as it is considered a fruit with a high content in vitamin C, almost equal to Citrus fruits. (Source: trade map)
In the Spain, around 93 to 95% of production of strawberries is found in the province of Huelva. This is mostly destined to the European markets, who grow increasingly more demanding with the conditions and techniques of production, these must be aimed at an efficient use of resources and to minimize the impact on the environment caused by this activity.
One of the main plants grown with Hydroponics is the strawberry. The Hydroponic system in soil is known as semi-Hydroponic. The need to rotate crops, developed mainly by family farmers in small areas, has influenced the investigation of new forms of growth to meet the demands of their necessities.
One of the alternatives that has been developed through the growing conscience of strawberry producers about the watering and mass use of pesticides has been the production of this fruit in protected areas like the elevated Hydroponic system, Where the appearance of pests and illnesses are reduced in the plants.
With the growth of strawberry in elevated hydroponic systems, we have the ability to bring forward the maximum dates for production compared with traditional systems of growth with this plant, therefore obtaining more benefits. Another great advantage, is that we obtain more production per square meter, as we will be seeing later, allows us to increase the planting density.
The traditional intense growth methods create:
- Little control in the use of water and nutrients, creating a large expense and over exploitation of water resources. The Irrigation of strawberries is especially complicated due to the fact that it is grown under plastic, on very sandy soils with low capacity to retain water.
- Simple structures to protect the crops, having no control over the ambient conditions.
- Contamination due to agricultural leaching, which has caused great criticism in the environmental aspect.
- Plants grown at soil level, creating problems to find labour and workers, obtaining from it low yields.
- Techniques that reduce the contamination of the soil and superficial water through leaching. Operations to disinfect the soil and deep fertilizing are not necessary.
- Better efficiency in the use of water and the possibility of recirculation of drainages.
- Higher quantity and quality of the crop. Better production and performance of the crop.
- Better nutritional control of the crop (Automated localized irrigation)
- This type of growth without soil permits growth at any location. Allowing to grow near the distribution points and consumption points therefore saving on shipping and environmental contamination.
- Reduction in phytosanitary treatments as the plant is aired.
- An improved and optimized working condition due to the height that the elevated hydroponic system gives when collecting the crop. A reduction in at least 50% of the costs of collection.
- There are “super intensive high technology Systems” like the lifting hydroponic system which allows us to maximize the production and use of resources, producing much more in less surface, more rational and respectful towards the environment. Up to 200000 plants/Ha.
- Improved Performance and cost effectiveness of the crop ,amongst many others.
As we can see, the growing interest in the market in the berry range in the last years has made the industry create new tools and production systems that years ago were unthinkable, creating a large decrease in labor costs, which is difficult and expensive to find due to the working conditions of working at ground level. According to “Revista Mercados” in their article on the 02/2019 about the collection of strawberries, in the year 2019 23,000 positions were offered for workers to collect strawberries in Huelva, having only 970 people replied and showed interest, this figure is only 4.2% of the unemployed people registered in this area, showing a lack of interest in a province with 25% unemployment.
The development of the Hydroponic Elevated Systems permits the producers to be more efficient at a quality level and at a production rate.