For millennia, humans have relied on an agrarian way of life for establishing societies. Over the years, agricultural practices have become further and further refined to increase yields despite changing environmental conditions. One of history’s most important farming discoveries has been the advent of hydroponic growing — cultivating crops in controlled environments without the need for natural soil.
Today, many investors view hydroponics as a solution to the culminating concerns of an increasing global population, higher density living and climate change. Having the ability to produce fresh food indoors without the need for swaths of land is fundamentally changing how societies around the world are able to subsist.
Hydroponics provides a way of producing large amounts of produce with little waste and a low environmental footprint. The fact that these systems are becoming easier to install and more cost-effective to operate is dramatically increasing hydroponic adoption around the world, particularly in regions with a history of food supply issues.
With ongoing technological advancements, increased consumer awareness and a growing need for sustainable urban grown food, the hydroponics industry is flourishing. Valued at an estimated USD 9.5 billion, the hydroponics market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3%, reaching a total value of USD 17.9 billion by 2026.
According to the United Nations, the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Finding ways to sustainably, affordably and successfully feed a growing population is a paramount issue facing today’s world, one that hydroponic technology is poised to answer.
9 Hydroponic Industry Trends
The explosive growth of the hydroponics market is driven by a number of global trends that impact consumer behavior, driving up the demand for hydroponically grown crops. From increased consumer awareness about healthy eating to growing concerns over climate change to the global COVID-19 pandemic, a variety of factors are influencing the hydroponics industry today and into the future.
Below are the top nine hydroponics industry trends impacting this growing market sector.
1. Tomatoes, Leafy Greens and Fruits
Hydroponics technology is advancing to be able to grow a variety of crops depending on the system and practices. Certain crops remain the most popular types to grow hydroponically because of the successful yield rates associated with them. Tomatoes are one such crop that dominates the hydroponics market, accounting for more than 40% of production in 2020.
Leafy greens, like kale, arugula and lettuce varieties, are also exploding in demand and are expected to increase by a compound annual growth rate of 23% between now and 2028. Both household consumption and restaurant use are two driving factors for the increase in leafy green production.
Fruits are another type of crop that is increasingly grown hydroponically. Watermelon and cantaloupe are two types of fruits favorable for growing under hydroponic conditions because of their ability to thrive in a water-based system.
2. HVAC and Lighting Technology
Hydroponics is a way of producing crops indoors in a contained and controlled environment that replicates and optimizes the conditions of the natural environment. To grow a large number of crops efficiently, growers need the right lighting solutions that mimic full-spectrum sunlight so that crops can go through their full growth cycles.
Since the energy costs associated with indoor lighting are one of the highest overhead expenses in a hydroponics operation, growers need the best possible grow lights, which come from LED technology. Manufacturers of LED grow lights continue to work hand in hand with growers to develop solutions that are the most effective for hydroponic crops.
Likewise, advancements in heating, ventilation and air conditioning continue to play an important role in building sustainable indoor growing environments. Manufacturers of HVAC equipment remain focused on developing units that consume less energy and take up a smaller footprint.
3. Automation Technology
Large-scale hydroponic growing facilities rely on advancements in automation technology to increase operational efficiencies and maximize output. The fully automated greenhouse continues to be the industry’s aspirational achievement, intricately weaving together a system of conveyor belts and robotics managed through a series of sensors and controls.
Smart greenhouses are those that automatically adjust indoor environmental factors, including adapting the lighting, ventilation and nutrient levels to match the needs of the crops at any given time. Smart monitoring systems can detect changes in CO2 levels, humidity, temperature and more so that growers can also rest assured they have insight into their growing conditions. All of this can now be managed from an app or web portal, saving growers time and effort.
4. Climate Change
One of the key benefits of hydroponic growing is that it can be done year-round in any geographical location, regardless of current climate conditions. This means that whether you’re in drought-ridden areas like southern California or regions with an extended frost season, you can continue yielding crops indoors despite the unfavorable conditions. As regions continue to experience the effects of a changing climate, indoor growing can help provide stability in otherwise uncertain conditions.
A significant factor driving advances in hydroponic technology is the growing concern over achieving climate change targets. Today, growers around the world are committed to finding the most sustainable practices that consume the least amount of natural resources possible. As a result, suppliers and growers alike are working on developing the best systems and practices possible to maximize yields while reducing resource consumption.
5. Space-Saving and High-Yield Farming
Hydroponics is a highly customizable method of growing crops, being able to be scaled up or down depending on the needs of the local market. Around the world, different regions are adopting hydroponic technology to meet their population and cultural needs. Combining high-yield hydroponic growing with smart technology allows enterprises in this market to build greenhouses that produce enough crops to serve a highly populated area but at a more cost-effective rate.
Likewise, urban farming is becoming possible in high-density areas thanks to vertical farm designs. Maximizing vertical space allows growers to build high-yield farms in a small urban footprint. Growers also look at innovative solutions to maximizing space, with many hydroponic farmers utilizing rooftop space that would otherwise be unoccupied.
6. Liquid Systems
In general, the term hydroponics refers to growing crops without the need for traditional soil. In conventional agriculture, crops are grown directly in the soil, which contains all the nutrients the plants need to thrive. In hydroponics, the crops are grown using a nutrient-enriched water solution that delivers the nutrients the crops need. Hydroponic crops must still be supported in some capacity, typically through a solid, inert medium like perlite or rockwool.
An alternative to solid substrate hydroponics is the liquid system, which is becoming increasingly popular among hydroponic farmers. Liquid systems are closed-loop farming systems whereby the crops’ roots are continuously exposed to the nutrient solution without the need for a solid growing medium to support the crops. The liquid nutrient solution gets continuously recirculated over the roots, making it a zero-waste system. According to one report, liquid systems are expected to account for the majority of hydroponic systems in the forecasted period to 2026.
7. Meal Kits
Like every industry, hydroponics has also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Drastic shifts in consumer behavior have caused growers to respond to new market opportunities, particularly through the new and widespread adoption of meal kits. Rather than eating out at restaurants or purchasing daily groceries, many households have switched to ordering meal kits and meal bundles as a way of having fresh and healthy prepared meals without needing to dine out.
Hydroponic farmers have ongoing opportunities to partner with meal kit providers as a supplier of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and more. The overall meal kit delivery service market was valued at an estimated USD 15.21 billion in 2021. The ongoing demand for niche meal kit types, including organic, vegan and vegetarian kits, provides even further opportunity for hydroponic farmers to expand into this vertical.
8. Homegrown Foods
While meal kits continue to grow in popularity for their convenience, more households are also turning to growing their own food at home. The pandemic has caused many people to shift to a more health-conscious view, with households seeking to improve overall diet and well-being. Additionally, as the cost of goods continues to increase worldwide, many families are turning to homegrown vegetables and herbs as a way of living more sustainably and saving on grocery costs.
Hydroponic farming is no longer reserved for strictly commercial enterprises, thanks to one of the major hydroponics trends in consumer gardening. Today, hydroponic systems are available for consumers to grow their own food, whether they have a yard or not. Systems like the AeroGarden are designed for small space gardening, sitting on the consumer’s kitchen countertop and producing fresh greens and herbs year-round.
9. Public Health
In the fall of 2018, romaine lettuce made global headlines when a major grower in California reported that its crops had been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, leading to 62 cases of reported illness — 25 of which resulted in hospitalizations for hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition that affects the blood vessels in the kidneys. The incident sparked a major public health investigation that has since caused increased concern among health officials and consumers alike over the safety of conventionally grown food crops.
With increased concerns over the potential for foodborne illness due to soil contamination, many people are turning to hydroponics as a way to reduce the risk of bacterial infections. Since hydroponic crops are grown in a closed system under controlled environmental conditions and without the use of soil, many people believe that these crops are inherently safer than traditional agri-crops due to the eliminated risk of bacteria found in soil. While hydroponic systems do still have the potential for E. coli and other bacterial contaminations, the lower risk makes hydroponics a viable practice in managing public health.
York Saw & Knife Hydroponic Industry Cutting Solutions
Hydroponic growers rely on efficient processes to yield high volumes of crops safely. When it comes to processing hydroponic crops, like leafy greens, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, growers need the best tools for the job, including the right machine blades.
When choosing the right knife for your industrial application, there are many factors to consider. One critical choice is the type of blade configuration to select for your machine. The following are the different types of specialty knives that York Saw & Knife manufactures for commercial hydroponics operations:
- Circular knives: Also known as rotary knives, circular knives are used to process large quantities of material, including leafy greens and vegetables, quickly and efficiently. In high-yield hydroponics farms, circular knives can withstand repeated use, making clean and precise cuts through crops steadily. Since circular knives remain fixed to the machine, they also provide a safer way to work at a high capacity.
- Cutoff knives: Depending on the type of crops produced and the processing steps involved, cutoff knives are another useful type of blade configuration in hydroponic production. Cutoff knives, also known as swing-style or guillotine knives, are highly effective at chopping, cutting and cropping products, including hydroponically grown fruit and vegetable stems or flower stocks. Guillotine knives allow operators to produce consistent, repeated cuts cleanly without the risk of crop damage.
- Trimmer blades: Harvesting is only one type of knife application in a hydroponics operation. Operators also need high-quality knives for ongoing crop care, including precision pruning and trimming. Trimmer blades allow growers to carefully prune parts of the plants, including the roots, buds or branches so that they can maintain healthy, flourishing crops. Since pruning is essential to a maximum yield, growers need durable and precise trimmer blades that can hold their edge over time.
The above knife profiles can be customized to meet any hydroponics operation’s needs, including the type of blade material. One of the major requirements for hydroponic growing is having a clean and sterile environment, and the blade material should support this necessity. York Saw & Knife specializes in producing industrial machine blades made from stainless steel.
When it comes to food-grade industrial knives, stainless steel is an ideal choice. Not only is stainless steel a safe material for food contact, but it’s also a highly durable type of blade. Hydroponics facilities that process leafy greens, fruits and vegetables can expect the following benefits from stainless steel machine blades:
- Resistant to corrosion
- Withstands repeated use
- Prevents nicks and dents
- Easy to maintain and keep clean
- Chemically inert and won’t impact food quality
Contact York Saw & Knife for Specialty Machine Knives
For all your specialty knife needs, including custom machine knives for the hydroponics industry, choose York Saw & Knife. Whether you need circular knives or cutoff knives for harvesting and processing or trimmer blades for pruning and crop care, York Saw & Knife can design and manufacture the ideal industrial machine blade for your needs.
Since 1906, York Saw & Knife has been designing and manufacturing custom American-made industrial knives. Based in York, Pennsylvania, York Saw & Knife is strategically positioned to serve hydroponic businesses across North America and worldwide.