For the uninitiated, Hydroponics is a technique for growing a smart farm within a greenhouse. Here, a ‘smart farm’ refers to a soilless, vertical setup that can house a thousand plants and more. A Hydroponics farm may just be our best bet for churning out chemical-free produce in less than half the space of actual farmland.
It’s typically preferable to cultivate salad greens like Lettuce, Parsley, Radish, Pakchoi, etc., in a Hydroponics greenhouse.
From Traditional Hydroponics to AI-powered Smart Hydroponics:
Technology doesn’t let innovation rest and always pushes for advancement. The same goes for Hydroponics, which has gone a step further to evolve into what’s already being referred to as ‘Smart Hydroponics’.
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How AI facilitates Smart Hydroponics:
AI-driven’ Smart Hydroponics’ can determine optimum growth for a plant through a combination of hardware setup and a software tool that can recreate its growth trajectory. Insights are generated from data obtained by sensors in the hardware.
The sensing hardware is divided into three categories, each of which is strategically placed within the hydroponics farm. They sit near the plant roots and collect data about the crop vitals, pH levels, electrical conductivity levels, and nutrient supply. They also detect light density, temperature, and humidity levels. A visual camera also checks the growing plants for colouration and feeds the data to the AI software. On the other hand, insights about the precise nature and needs of the products are generated through machine learning.
Automation in Vertical Farming:
The AI software system works like the brain behind the entire Hydroponic farm. It can choose between different types of LED lighting and modulate light intensity. It can even turn on a suitable irrigation system. It drives end-to-end automation so that fewer manual tasks are delegated.
The status of AI in Hydroponics in India:
Currently, AI in Hydroponics in India may be in a fledgeling state. Although a few successful Hydroponics startups have managed to raise capital and innovate with AI, there is still a lack of general awareness about the potential of AI-driven Hydroponics farming.
AI in Hydroponics in India is currently restricted to a number of young ‘agripreneurs’ who are attempting to transform agriculture in India into a niche market by innovating through AI.
These startups have grown to a commercial level where the farmer uses AI-driven automation systems and farm management software to track and control the Hydroponics farm remotely. That being said, Hydroponics farms are trending not just in India but the world over.
While the Indian market is expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 13.53% by 2027, the global market, on the other hand, is set to touch a whopping $17.9 billion by 2026. Globally, high-tech hydroponics farming is adding more and more startups and urban farms with each passing day. There is also great interest among big-league investors. Globally, AI is shaping the future of Hydroponics.
Companies working towards bringing AI to Hydroponics:
In India, noteworthy companies that are bringing or rather have already brought AI to Hydroponics include Agro2o, a Delhi-based startup that has prototyped a ‘smart hydroponic garden’ equipped with IoT and AI growing algorithms. Agro2o’s founder took AI’s help to tackle traditional Hydroponics challenges, like the need to maintain consistent pH levels and electrical conductivity.
Another noteworthy company is Agritech which worked on challenges like harsh weather. They deployed smart precision technology that combines AI with 5G and machine learning to measure humidity and determine water measurement.
What can AI technology do for Hydroponic farming?
AgriTech’s new entrant ‘Hydroponics’ seems to have expanded its possibilities even further. But it looks like AI’s tryst with the latter will take smart farming to even greater heights. AI is already doing a lot to further the possibilities of Hydroponics:
- Seed profiling – Germination is key to growing plants in a Hydroponics farm. Germination is typically carried out on special soil-like Coco peat (coconut husk). Once the seeds germinate and reach a desirable height, they are re-potted into a vertical soilless setup. In this stage, AI can be delegated to perform seed profiling to determine the best germination rate for different plants.
- Plant nutrients – The saplings in a hydroponics farm need to be carefully supplied with nutrients in measured quantities. AI can be assigned this task of measuring the optimal nutrient quantity based on the crop profile.
- AI Greenhouses: It is critical to have appropriate and desirable conditions within the greenhouse. Maintaining constant temperature inside the greenhouse looks like a task AI can do successfully. AI can automate the greenhouse temperature, which can then subsequently be regulated on a software solution. Depending on the crops being grown, smart farmers can equip themselves to modulate the greenhouse environment.
AI is transforming the farming industry by knocking off the last hurdle that kept us physically bound to the agriculture sector. Hydroponics has already solved the space problem since terrace farms, which are now trending.
Sachin Darbarwar, the Founder of SimplyFresh, a Nutraceuticals firm, is of the opinion, “In a country like ours, where we have a scarcity of water especially for agricultural use, we can reduce our water consumption drastically by up to 1/10th of the traditional farming water consumption by using Hydroponic and AI technology”.
Precision AI technology is slowly freeing Hydroponics farmers from the constant attention they need to give to their products and the balancing act between environment and feed control. End-to-end automation gradually becomes a viable reality in Hydroponics and is turning the conventional farmer in India into tech-savvy agripreneurs.