We’ve looked at niche farming techniques before such as Aquaponic Farming, Hydroponic Farming, and Vertical Farming in general. Now Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium. Aeroponics differs from both conventional hydroponics and aquaponics growing. Unlike hydroponics, which uses a liquid nutrient solution as a growing medium and essential minerals to sustain plant growth, or aquaponics, which uses water and fish poop, aeroponics is conducted without a growing medium.
The basic principle of aeroponic growing is to grow plants suspended in a closed or semi-closed environment by spraying the plant’s dangling roots and lower stem with an atomised or sprayed, nutrient-rich water solution. Plants grow in a soilless medium called rockwool.
While aeroponics is more expensive than hydroponics to setup (for reasons mentioned below) it is considered a more advanced form than hydroponics and results in faster growth, healthier plants, and higher yields while using fewer resources. Most people start with hydroponics and transition to aeroponics to first learn the fundemantals (and it’s cheaper to start). One thing that both of these will suit is “dreamer” farmers who cannot tolerate the hard work and stress of traditional farming. These systems feeding and watering systems can be automated using timers and no need for digging and weeding.
Is there a business here?
The first question to cover is, is there a farming business here? I have spoken before of the need to (economically) get farming closer to big cities whether it be rooftop farms or any other technique that does not require large tracts of land. The price of fruit and vegetables is out of control in retail stores this is due to all the middlemen between the farmer and customer (transport, logistics, retail, etc.) the question is can these techniques be used for functional farming or is it mainly fashionable and cosmetic? Obviously very hard to say without actually doing it within a city environment, and even then doing it on a small scale won’t give us a real picture and will require the products to be sold at a premium which does not solve the problem of expensive fruit and vegetables. I don’t doubt that these techniques are viable it’s just that due to constraints you are limited to microgreens, leafy greens, herbs, small fruits like strawberries, tomatoes and even propagating and growing small trees to sell to nurseries. A starter 22 pot cloning kit can be bought for R1300 if you want to dip your feet in the water.
In fact, aeroponics might be ideal or better suited to start a business that propagates the plant and selling it to people who will grow it or resell like nurseries. I spoke more about this more below in the dagga section. Here is a three-day old potato explant grown in an aeroponic system:
However there are other opportunities here, and that is building aeroponic farms for restaurants or even buildings that want theatrical greens in their spaces. One can argue that growing aeroponics behind a clear piece of glass with its roots visible and mist being sprayed against the glass is even more striking than hydroponics with its pipe system. However, aeroponics does have a higher startup cost due to the machinery than hydroponics which can be grown in PVC piping.
The other opportunity is to sell the equipment and raw materials so that people can build their own aeroponics (or sell B2B to the abovementioned aeroponics farm builders). The hydroponics space has gotten more competitive in recent years and with aeroponics, there is an opportunity for more money to due the specialised machinery required.
Growing high-value products
Often when we think farming we think of normal everyday stuff but there is an opportunity to grow high-value crops such as dagga aeroponically. Like other plants dagga is grown with their roots suspended in air inside of a chamber and sprayed with water. It is often used to start dagga clones or cuttings/branches in order to give them a healthy root system before being potted into soil or another growing medium (the clones can even be sold on their own to other growers), but can also be used to grow full plants. Obviously, this depends on it being fully legalised to resell 😉, even though the government recently announced a “cannabis master plan” we all know that the ANC couldn’t plan their way out of a one-way street, so it remains to be seen how they’ll fuck that up – my guess is a taxi style “permit” system that will eventually chase all the decent people out of the industry leaving only hooligans that end up killing each other. That being said as a plant dagga is no business of the government to regulate in the first place and the indigenous people have been smoking it long before the colonialists that criminalised it arrived. But we’ll see whether this lives up to the promise, although it probably won’t and people will continue to get it on the black market outside of government regulation.
Image credits: groadvisorworldwide.com, Pinterest