Hydroponic fodder production: A critical assessment

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Broadening Horizons N°48 Download as PDF

M.P.S. Bakshi, M. Wadhwa and Harinder P.S. Makkar*

Department of Animal Nutrition, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Science University, Ludhiana-141004, India; *International Consultant and Adjunct Professor, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany.

E-mail: bakshimps2@gmail.com


The methods of hydroponic fodder production date back to the 1800s (Kerr et al., 2014), or earlier, from the ?Hanging Gardens of Babylon' era, when European dairy farmers fed sprouted grains to their cows during winter to maintain milk production and improve fertility (Anonymous, 2008). There is renewed interest in this technology due to shortage of green fodder in most of the Middle East, African and Asian countries. Fodder production cannot easily be increased due mainly to ever increasing human pressure on land for production of cereal grains, oil seeds and pulses. To meet this increasing demand for green fodder, one of the alternatives is hydroponic fodder to supplement the meager pasture resources. The word hydroponics is derived from two Greek words: 'hydro' meaning water and 'ponos' meaning labour i.e. water working. Hydroponic green fodder can be produced both in large, sophisticated, automated commercial systems with environmental control, or in low cost systems, where the ambient environment is suitable for fodder production. Fodder seeds utilize tap water, or nutrient-enriched solutions for plant nourishment in the absence of soil. Hydroponic fodder is also called fresh fodder biscuits, sprouted fodder or sprouted grain or alfaculture. Today, hydroponics are used in harsh climates such as deserts, areas with poor soil or in urban areas where high land costs have driven out traditional agriculture. Hydroponic fodder production is probably best-suited to semi-arid, arid, and drought-prone regions of the world, suffering from chronic water shortages or in areas where irrigation infrastructure does not exist. Hydroponic fodder production is a boon for farmers whose soil is rocky and infertile. It is a viable farmer friendly alternative technology for landless farmers for fodder production. Fodders including maize, barley, oats, sorghum, rye, alfalfa and triticale can be produced by hydroponics. Others, including cowpea, horse gram, sun hemp, ragi, bajra, foxtail millet and Jowar have also been grown successfully by the use of hydroponics (Rachel Jemimah et al., 2015).

High-cost hi-tech hydroponic systems

These are highly sophisticated, fully automated fodder production systems with controlled environments, and are immune to natural weather variations. The required water, light, temperature, humidity and aeration are fully controlled by sensors. The provision for recycling of water is also available. In India, Government established 11 hi-tech hydroponic units under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yozna (RKVY) at the Research Complex, Goa of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and in Dairy cooperatives of Goa State. Likewise in Kerala the Dairy Development Department (KDDD), Integrated Dairy Development Project, has introduced a scheme to produce hydroponic green fodder. The department has already distributed 24 hydroponic fodder units to selected dairy farmers.

The procedure, in brief, for production of hydroponic fodder comprises procuring clean, sound, intact, untreated, viable seeds/grains of high quality (Sneath and McIntosh, 2003; Naik et al., 2015). The seeds should be soaked in 0.1-1.5% bleach solution (sodium hypochlorite) or 1-2% hydrogen peroxide solution for 30-60 minutes (Rachel Jemimah et al., 2015; Starova Jeton, 2016), and thereafter washed in tap water. The seeds are then soaked in fresh aerated water for different periods: 4 h (Naik et al., 2014), 8 h (Starova Jeton, 2016), 12-16 h or overnight (El-Deeba et al., 2009; Al-Karaki and Al-Momani, 2011; Brownin, 2017), 6-20 h (Rachel Jemimah et al., 2015) or 24 h (Shashank Sinsinwar et al., 2012; Reddy, 2014) depending on the hardness of the seed coat. Temperature of the water or solution used for soaking also affects the germination rate. The optimum temperature for soaking the seeds is 23 ºC (Sneath and McIntosh, 2003). After soaking, the seeds are spread at up to one cm depth in plastic or light weight metallic trays with holes to facilitate drainage of the waste water/nutrient solution, which can be collected in a tank and recycled. The seed rate (quantity of seeds loaded per unit surface area), which varies with the type of seeds, also affects the yield of the fodder. The recommended seeding rate for production of hydroponic barley, wheat or sorghum fodder is 4-6 kg/m2 (Al-Karaki and Al-Momani, 2011; Starova Jeton, 2016), and for maize fodder is 6.4-7.6 kg/m2 (Naik and Singh, 2013; Naik, 2014; Naik et al, 2017a), respectively. The seed cost contributes 85-90% of the total cost of production of hydroponic fodder (Naik et al., 2014; Rachel Jemimah et al., 2015). The trays are placed in hydroponic racks, and seeds are irrigated with fresh tap water or nutrient enriched solution. The trays should never be exposed to direct sunlight, strong wind and heavy rain. During the growing period, the seeds are kept moist by drip or spray irrigation but are not saturated. The environmental factors for optimum growth of a fodder are: temperature between 19 to 22 ºC, humidity between 40-80% (optimum being 60%), light (2000 lux in intensity) between 12-16 h and aeriation for 3 minutes after every 2 h (El-Deeba et al., 2009; Starova Jeton, 2016). The sprouts grow, albeit slowly outside the optimal conditions mentioned above, but at higher temperatures humidity mould infestation is one of the biggest challenges that needs addressing. For barley seed sprouts, the peak nutrient and biomass yield was at the 6th day of sowing, and this is the optimum stage for harvesting the fodder. Hydroponic fodder (20-30 cm grass mat containing roots, spent seeds and green shoots; Photo 1) is ready for harvesting within 6-8 days and requires a small piece of land for production (Mooney, 2005; Reddy, 2014).

Photo 1. Hydroponic maize fodder production in India

(Photo credit: P.K. Naik, Central Avian Research Institute Regional Centre, Bhubaneswar, India)

The electricity requirement for the production of hydroponic fodder is much lower than for traditional fodder production. Amongst different hydroponic fodders such as sprouted barley, oats, rye, triticale, and wheat, the sprouted barley has the highest forage quality (Heins et al., 2015).

Irrigation water with or without nutrient enrichment: The comparative evaluation of hydroponic barley produced by using tap water or nutrient solution revealed that sprouts grown with nutrient solution had higher crude protein and ash contents than those grown with tap water. The Ca, K, P, Mg, Na, Fe, Cu and Zn concentrations were higher in barley fodder produced using nutrient solution (Peer and Leeson, 1985; Dung et al., 2010; Fazaeli et al., 2012). However, there was no significant difference in dry matter (DM) loss and in sacco degradability of nutrients. Moreover, earlier reports indicated that the nutrient requirements of the seedlings are satisfied from the nutrients reserves in the seeds (Bewley, 1997; Dung et al., 2010). Use of nutrient solution also increases cost of fodder production. It was concluded that there was no additional advantage of using nutrient solution for producing hydroponic fodder (Dung et al., 2010; Fazaeli et al., 2012).

Low cost hydroponic system

In developing countries, the expensive, hi-tech commercial hydroponic fodder production systems are being replaced by low cost hydroponic systems made up of locally available materials. The cost of such systems depends upon the type of construction materials used. Any type of shelter, garage, basement, room or low density plastic sheets, greenhouse or poly-hut with solid floor of compacted earth, concrete, cobblestone etc. (Kerr et al., 2014; Reddy, 2014; Anonymous, 2015; Starova Jeton, 2016), where the temperature, humidity and light can be controlled are used for hydroponic fodder production. The Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur developed a low cost hydroponic system in a room, two walls of which were made up of bricks, while the other two sides (North-South) had double glazed glass windows, which permited sunlight to get through, but prevented a rise in temperature inside the hydroponic system. Bamboos were used for the construction of shelf racks (Shashank Sinsinwar et al., 2012; Kide et al., 2015). Owing to decreasing available land, the intensive labour and pesticide requirement, together with an inadequate supply of water in the Southern states of India, Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University developed a hydroponic system at the University Research Farm at Madhavaram Milk Colony. This is a low cost mobile system producing 40 kg hydroponic fodder/day. The system is being sold to dairy farmers at Indian National Rupees (INR) 48000.0 (US $750; Tensingh Gananaraj et al., 2016). The ICAR research complex in Goa and Govind milk and milk products in Satara District in Maharashtra in India assisted in developing on-farm low cost hydroponic systems (Photo 2) and 17 dairy farmers are now producing and feeding hydroponic fodder.

Photo 2. Low cost hydroponic fodder production unit in India

(Photo credit: Dr. P.K. Naik, Central Avian Research Institute Regional Centre, Bhubaneswar, India)

In Malawi, hydroponic fodder has been produced in a simple greenhouse containing wooden frame shelving on which trays containing seeds are stacked (Yvonne Kamanga, 2016). Naik et al. (2013) reported that the rack could be made up of wood, steel or polyvinly chloride (PVC) pipes, but they have also used an existing wall of a building to construct a lean-to-shade net greenhouse, which reduced the cost of construction. It is difficult to control or adjust the humidity and air circulation in low-cost hydroponic production units, especially during the dry hot summer months. In Tanzania, the temperature and humidity inside the hydroponic fodder systems are controlled using only a hydro-net and a hydro-cloth, to ensure good growth and nutritional value of the fodder (Anonymous, 2016). Fresh water is used for irrigation of the hydroponic fodder by using manual or automatic micro-sprinklers or a knapsack sprayer at frequent intervals. In low cost hydroponic systems the internal environment of the greenhouse is more influenced by the outside climatic conditions. Therefore, the types of fodder to be grown hydroponically depend upon the season and climatic condition of the locality/region. The seeds sprout within 24 h and grow up to 20-30 cm in 7-8 days, when they are ready for harvest and feeding. In hi-tech greenhouses, about 8-15 units of electricity are required to produce 600 kg of hydroponic maize fodder daily, which can be reduced significantly in low cost shade net structures (Naik et al., 2013).

Advantages of hydroponic fodder

There are a number of advantages of hydroponic fodder production.

Efficiency: By providing the optimal environment the efficiency of fodder production is increased remarkably. Hydroponic systems minimize water wastage since it is applied directly to the roots and is often recycled and used several times. However, the water should be clean because bacteria and fungi proliferate during recycling during the growth cycle. It is, therefore, suggested to go for infrared filtering of the water before recycling (FAO, 2015). It has been reported that about 1.5-2 liters are needed to produce 1 kg of green fodder hydroponically in comparison with 73, 85, and 160 liters to produce 1 kg of green fodder of barley, alfalfa, and Rhodes grass under field conditions, respectively. Under hydroponic systems this equates to only 2-5% of water used intraditional fodder production (Al-Karaki and Al-Momani. 2011; Naik, 2014; Rachel Jemimah et al., 2015; Yvonne Kamanga, 2016). This is especially important in areas suffering from chronic water shortages or where the infrastructure for irrigation does not exist.

Space: Hydroponic systems require much less space and time than conventional systems, which makes the former ideal for urban dwellers with limited yard space. The plant root systems of hydroponic fodder are much smaller than in a traditionally grown fodder, which means higher numbers of plants per unit of space. It is also easy to start a hydroponic system indoors, wherein number of racks with multiple tiers (vertical farming) are used, minimizing land requirement thereby resulting in land preservation. Crop rotation is not necessary in hydroponics, the same fodder species can be grown throughout the year. Using hydroponics technology, about 600-1000 kg maize fodder can be produced daily in 7-8 days growth cycle, in only 45-50 m2 area compared with one ha required in traditional farming (Naik and Singh, 2013; Rachel Jemimah et al., 2015). Another study revealed that only one square meter space is required to produce fodder for two cows per day and the milk yield was increased by 13% (Yvonne Kamanga, 2016).

Use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides: Traditional outdoor farming must rely on herbicides, fungicides and/or insecticides for optimum production. Hydroponic fodder is grown in a controlled environment without soil and, therefore, is not susceptible to soil-borne diseases, pests or fungi, there by minimizing use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. An outbreak of pests or infections in hydroponically grown fodder can be quickly controlled by spraying the crops with appropriate pesticides or fungicides. Fresh and clean water should be used for irrigation as water-borne plant diseases spread quickly.

Fodder yield: Fodder production is accelerated by as much as 25% by bringing the nutrients directly to the plants, without developing large root systems to seek out food. Plants mature faster and more evenly under a hydroponic system than a conventional soil based system . One kg of un-sprouted seed yields 8-10 kg green forage in 7-8 days (Sneath and McIntosh, 2003; Naik et al., 2013; Reddy, 2014; Anonymous, 2015; FAO, 2015; Yvonne Kamanga, 2016). The hydroponics maize fodder yield on fresh basis is 5-6 times higher than that obtained in a traditional farm production, and is more nutritious (Naik et al., 2014).

Fodder quality: The crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF) and Ca content increased, but organic matter (OM) and non-fibrous carbohydrates (NFC) content decreased (P

Fuente: Feedpedia


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