DAERA Notes: Horticulture

Lettuce growing in a DWT system
Lettuce growing in a DWT system

Growing plants without soil: Hydroponic is defined as growing plants without using soil.

Nearly all greenhouse grown UK tomatoes and cucumbers and 25% of herbs and 70% of lettuce in the US are grown in hydroponic systems. The move to hydroponic production is driven by advantages such as increased yields, lower incidences of soil borne diseases and very high water and fertiliser use efficiencies.

Stock growing in a NFT system

Stock growing in a NFT system

To address the knowledge gap in this area the Horticulture Centre at Greenmount Campus is constructing three hydroponic production systems for use in student work and technology demonstration projects. The hydroponic systems under development are:

* deep water culture (DWC)

* nutrient film technique (NFT)

*deep flow technique (DFT)

In DWC (photo 1) plants are planted through openings in polystyrene sheets which are then floated on a ‘pond’ of water. In NFT plants are gown in troughs along which a thin layer of nutrient rich water 2-3 mm deep flows from one end to the other. DFT is a hybrid of DWC and NFT systems where NFT troughs are used (photo 2) but the outlet pipe is raised to create a layer of water approximately 5 cm deep along the base. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages but in all of them the nutrient rich water is recycled. They are all ‘closed’ hydroponic systems with minimal nutrient loss into the environment. Over the summer lettuce and herbs (primarily basil) will be grown in these systems to help develop a cropping programme suitable for NI conditions, evaluate the different techniques and identify areas for improvement in future work.

Growers will be invited to see the systems in operation at Greenmount during the growing season. If you would like more information on this area, please contact Mark Huey on 07785 344 244 or email: mark.huey@daera-ni.gov.uk.

LEAF Marque

CAFRE have been awarded the LEAF Marque for the past 11 years and will shortly go through the 2019 annual inspection. LEAF Marque is becoming a leading assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products. The LEAF certification organisation supports farmers with training and technical guidance for the implementation of on farm integrated management methods.

LEAF Marque is underpinned by the sustainable farming principles of Integrated Farm Management and recognises more environmentally sustainable production, demonstrates continuous improvement and measures performance.

LEAF Marque certification is being sought by supermarket suppliers to assure consumers that the agricultural and horticultural products they sell have been environmentally and sustainably produced. They use this standard to show their customers that they are empowering them to make positive choices for environmental sustainability.