Hydroponics method enables sustainable lettuce production anywhere in the world
Lettuce is being grown increasingly cleanly and more sustainably worldwide thanks to hydroponics. This innovative production method is still gaining ground, explains Market Specialist Peter Sonneveld from vegetable breeding company Rijk Zwaan.
“There is a growing demand for healthy, clean, tasty and preferably locally produced vegetables on every continent. Hydroponics – an innovative production method that is especially suitable for leafy crops – meets all of these market needs. It is particularly food safe because growers use few if any chemicals, plus water and fertilisers are re-used as much as possible. In other words, it’s a very sustainable approach. So it’s not surprising that the production area has been increasing by double figures for the past few years, and I expect that strong growth to continue for the foreseeable future,” says Sonneveld.
Six times more yield
From Northwestern Europe to Eastern Europe and from Russia to North America –water-based production is rapidly increasing everywhere, according to the market specialist, primarily in high-tech greenhouses or plant factories. Most growers use the deep water culture (DWC) or nutrient film technique (NFT). Sonneveld: “Thanks to being a closed or semi-closed system, hydroponics-based production is possible in almost any climate around the world. Once growers are no longer at the mercy of the weather conditions, they can produce vegetables all year round – plus the crops grow more quickly too. This state-of-the-art production method enables them to achieve up to six times more yield than an outdoor set-up.”
This production method offers food safety, sustainability and efficiency benefits for both consumers and growers, explains Sonneveld, which is why Rijk Zwaan is encouraging its adoption. “It’s a perfect fit with the twelfth United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): responsible production and consumption. That’s one of several SDGs with which we have aligned our own sustainability objectives. We have more than 50 varieties that are suitable for hydroponics, and offer technical guidance to growers, recipes via our Love my Salad consumer platform as well as new concepts for growers, retailers and the convenience sector… so our engagement goes a long way.”
One of Rijk Zwaan’s new concepts is the development of hydroponics lettuce varieties that growers can harvest while still young, explains the market specialist. “These ‘teens’ are harvested halfway between the babyleaf stage and becoming a mature head of lettuce. One of the biggest advantages of this is it reduces waste for processing companies, thus helping to maximise their profit. So this Salanova® Teenleaf concept definitely offers the potential for gains. It’s just one example of how we’re working together in the agri-food sector to gradually improve the sustainability of vegetable production and consumption.” That’s how we share a healthy future.