Hydroponics Safety: Conventional vs. Organic Hydroponics

Nate: Hi, this is Nate Storey with Bright
Agrotech. Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about whether or not conventional hydroponic
solutions are safe. As many of you guys know, we have both organic and conventional farms.
We’re growing organically with our aquaponic production in this greenhouse here. We’ve
got also a conventional farm down in Colorado where we’re growing with hydroponic solutions.
The question arises a lot, and a lot of people ask us this question because they know we’ve
got our hands in both parts of the industry: Are conventional hydroponic solution is safe.
A lot of people will say, well you’re growing with chemicals. That’ can’t be safe. I always
have to talk with folks and make sure that they understand that yes, we are using chemicals,
but we’re also using these chemicals in our organic systems. The question is not the chemicals
being used because the plants absorb certain nutrients in certain chemical forms. That’s
just how plants work. They take nitrate whether it’s synthetic. They take nitrate whether
it’s mined. They take nitrate whether it comes from the decomposition of proteins and the
oxidation of ammonia in our aquaponics system. It’s all the same thing.
The reality is yes, we’re using chemicals, but we’re always using chemicals even in our
organic systems. The real question here is source. What is the source of these chemicals,
and how comfortable are we with this source? A lot of the folks that purchase organic,
including a lot of our customers, we eat mostly our organic produce because we’re up here
in Laramie and this is where our farm is. When we’re down in Colorado, we’re eating
a lot of our conventional produce. The reality is that it tastes very similar. Oftentimes,
believe it or not, the conventional stuff is a little bit more nutritionally balanced
simply because the plants have all the nutrition they need.
At the end of the day, I feed my family both things. I know that both things are very safe.
I know that both things are grown by me, are grown by my people. I’m very comfortable feeding
both conventional and organic hydroponic produce to my family, to my child to my wife. At the
end of the day, nitrate is nitrate. There’s no difference between nitrate that we get
through synthetic processes and nitrate that we get through organic processes. That’s always
the big question. Whether you buy organic or whether you buy conventional, probably
the more important question to ask is what is the pesticide exposure from eating this
product, and was it grown sustainably, and was it grown locally?
At the end of the day, for me nutrients are not the big question. Nutrient sources are
even not the question. A lot of conventional nutrients are actually produced more sustainably
than some organic nutrients. We want to be thinking about our organic nutrients in the
same way that we think about oil, as the same that we think about a lot of our other finite
resources. Really, what I’m saying is this is way too big of an issue to really get into
in a single five- to seven-minute YouTube video. You as a consumer need to do your due
diligence. You need to do a little research. You need to understand that even in organic
systems, a lot of the time we’re mining rock phosphate. We’re mining guano, Chilean nitrate,
you name it. There’s all of these different forms of these
same chemicals that are used in organic systems, that are mined, that come from natural sources,
that are currently being harvested unsustainably. As a grower, I have to think very carefully,
not just about the safety and the quality of my product and what my customers want,
but also where I’m sourcing a lot of my nutrients from. There’s a great argument to be made
for conventional over organic in some areas. There’s a great argument to be made for organic
over conventional in some situations. Keep that in mind, and understand that nothing
is as clear-cut as it seems. When it comes to nutrients, there is a very great middle
road for both organic and conventional producers. As far as your health is concerned, you have
nothing to worry about. We’ve been eating conventional hydroponic produce for a very
long time, and it is pretty darn safe, especially the way it’s being practiced now. Thanks so
much for watching. If you find this information useful, check out the Vertical Food Blog.
We’ll go into a little bit more detail on the subject over there. At the end of the
day, our goal is to just give you good, fair-balanced information from a guy that farms both organically
and using conventional solutions in hydroponic systems.

52 thoughts on “Hydroponics Safety: Conventional vs. Organic Hydroponics

  1. Nate, great video but i have a couple questions.
       1) You mentioned sustainable sourcing for your inputs. Do you have any information sources for better comparing this?
       2) You also mentioned organic growing, is your vertical farm equipment OMRI listed?

  2. Great video I have been hoping that you would go over this information. I have been doing a lot of reading about the subject and a lot of the organic resources are not harvested sustainably at all, just like you said, and some of the process that are used to recover the organic material contributes more to pollution than you would think. Thanks!

  3. Nate,
    Your candor as well as these informative tutorials are much appreciated. It seems to me that deriving nitrates from fish waste might have a few benefits over conventional fertilizing even with the necessary supplementing of secondary nutrients. And, of course, the fish need to be fed. I guess the bottom line is being able to provide safe nutritious food to your customers.
    I really enjoy these videos and look forward to them regularly. Thanks…Ed

  4. Thank you Nate!
    I started in aquaponics about 3 months ago and have been trying to find fish and animal friendly products to supplement the nutrition in the fish food. I recently got a jug of "Sea-Crop" because I've heard a lot about trace minerals being necessary for many plants to have optimum nutrient density. As soon as I got home, John Kohler at GrowingYourGreens.com did a video on another sea extract product that has all those organic/OMRI endorsements.

    Do you have any thoughts, rumors, or experience with ocean water derived mineral blend additives?

    Thanks Again!

  5. can you speak to the sustainability issues surrounding limiting phosphate resources and the fossil fuel required to generate nitrogen for hydroponic systems. Also, do you think that  hydroponic vegetables may be healthier than aquaponically grown veggies since as you say, hydroponically grown plants  have a more reliable and balanced nutrient source available to them at all times – have you tested this directly with your systems because this is something I am very interested in?

  6. I'm setting up my greenhouse system a little at a time with as little bit of money as I can swing (you don't make a lot on a homestead lol) can your system be started small and built up cheap?

  7. Great input, thanks for the perspective. I am trying to plan for a comershal aquaponics system myself, so your understanding of what is both practical and sustainable is very helpful. i would like to be certified organic so my options will be a little more limited. My impression would be that you could create some sustainable organic solutions that would save you money in the long run. It would just take some initial investment and ingenuity, not to mention a lot of failing before you got it right. For instance integrating traditional compost into an aquaponics system. If you could figure out how to do that safely and effectively, that could produce some great nutrients. Not sure if it's possible, but if it worked it would be awesome

  8. I was wondering when you might address sustainability in AP because so much of the fish food made out there is made with Menhedan, a filter feeder at the base of the food chain for fish which is now at critically over fished levels. That in combination with the need augment systems with deficient nutrients and minerals should surely concern those choosing a sustainable path. The future will be fish foods made from insect proteins fed by the human consumption waste stream.

  9. Always a pleasure listening to Nate – he seems to give a well balanced perspective on a quality growing system and encouraging end users to do their own research instead of trying to convince them that he has all the answers.

  10. Thanks for that.. Not many folks think about where their organic inputs are coming from & just except they are better blindly..

  11. Hey,

    Is there ANY research on the risk in using aquaphonics?
    is there any risk in the fact you are constantly watering the plants with fish waste? (or water running through fish waste).

  12. Great stuff Nate. This will help me describe what I've been trying to describe to our customers all along in a much clearer sense. Will you ever do a video talking more about decouple systems? Best of luck.

  13. Thanks Nate
    We have this conversation weekly at the market and almost never at the farm. When most people see the hydroponics system they are amazed at how much better the crops appear than the dirt grown in the same environment.
    Some people become very upset about it demanding if it diddnt come from compost it is bad for you. It all comes down to getting the right information.

  14. This 'organic' term in agriculture is a complete misnomer – it's a marketting gimmick, nothing else, and its an effective way of capturing attention. Anybody with a basic understanding of chemistry knows that 'organic' means 'carbon-based', therefore all the nitrates and phosphates are inherently inorganic regardless of their source. But the industry has bastardized this definition towards 'natural vs unnatural' (misnomer). When the root absorb nutrients down at the molecular level, nitrates and phosphates (and all others) are EXACTLY the same regardless of whether natural or unnatural.

  15. there is a difference between synthetic and organic, Synthetic nutrients has chemical compound that do not occur in nature and our body does not recognize it, synthetic nutrients never existed before modern time 

  16. Hi guys,

    Thanks so much for all the video's you guys produce. if I can ask a question I hope one of you very busy people are able to respond as I'm unable to find the answer anywhere.

    I run both Conv Hydro and a small experimental Organic Hydro unit so am interested.

    I read an article recently about a comparative study done in Japan. as follows; plant; Komatsuma (Brassica rapa) the Nitrate ion level recorded was 5108 mg/L and 987 mg/L for both Conv Hydro and Organic Hydro respectively. I know little but have read consuming high levels of Nitrate ion's in plants are not as good for us as low levels. Are you able to suggest how this comes about and/or if this really does matter?

  17. This topic discusses the use in hydro/aqua systems but what about the talk about soil fertility. Studies have shown that the use of synthetics (fertilizers/pesticides/fungicides) destroy bacterial/microbial life. For people who grow in soil the health of the soil is the most important thing. Most people who believe this focus on incredible approaches to composting and minimal amendments to achieve a living soil. The sustainability word was also thrown around but do we consider the sustainability of fossil fuels that are used to derive such conventional products or even to mine or extract some organic products? One day we may only be able to rely on locality and this will drive the real sustainability issue.

  18. So…what is a nicely sustainable but totally organic liquid fertilizer/nutrient product that I can use if I decide to go with organic over conventional (which I am 100% sure I will)? (and where do I get it online?)

  19. Hi, 

    Thank for the video. I'm trying with hydroponic with Hoagland solution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoagland_solution), then i found that the residual nitrate is over safe level. Do you know to solve/reduce…or any suggestions? How is it going on your system?

  20. very well said, nothing is simple and organic doesnt = sustainable. I think a greater understanding of the environment and our resources is really needed in the next generation that currently is lacking. 

  21. One little note on synthetic fertilizers. They all get nitrogen from ammonia. Currently, in order to accomplish this a complex gasification process called the Haber-Bosch Process uses fossils fuels as the main ingredient. Most often natural gas is used, but also coal and oil is used in countries that don't have natural gas reserves or refineries, like China. This Haber-Bosch Process produces CO2 and Methane in the manufacture of ammonia, as well as other greenhouse gases. Through this process, a 50lbs bag of nitrogen represents approximately one gallon of gasoline. Can you image how many pounds of nitrogen are used on the fields of big commercial agriculture, and how much fossil fuels are consumed just in the manufacture alone, not including transportation and application of chemical fertilizers?. Sure, we're able to feed billions of people by this process, but for how long? Do your research on sustainable organics and vegan based nutrients. There are alternatives.

  22. Great, informational video! I'm excited to see someone in Wyoming have success growing. I'm in Cheyenne and the last few years have been a struggle to get our garden to thrive.

  23. I've been investigating for months about this topic. This 5 minutes video made my day. Thanks you A LOT. Really good explanation 🙂

  24. Thanks for the great myth busting, Nate. I'm a split organic soil and hydro producer myself, and I have to answer these questions all the time. I'll be sending curious customers to this video.

  25. So why do you think organic farming is promoted everywhere? Is it that we can't use organic liquid fertilizers for hydroponics?

  26. If both hydroponics, organics and conventional are safe then why many people who are into eating healthy prefer organics?? I don't think it's because of nothing.

  27. if any synthetic fertilizers is involved that no longer organic. nitrate is nitrate but what is the source? if it is obtains naturally, its organic, if other wise your product is no longer organic

  28. Hi…i was wondering how bell pepper and tomato species would do when you grow them using "cow feaces biogas byproduct slurry" as the main or only culture in a hydroponic system….?

  29. There is no justification for the environmental cost of so called 'conventional' , synthetic NPK nutrients. It is incomparable. Animal manure is a waste product produced everywhere. The food we eat (both food waste, and ideally humanure) should also be composted, otherwise large amounts of nutrients are just wasted. Only thing with manure is you want to produce your own compost, because with some American diets and lifestyles it will be toxic waste.

  30. I personally buy organic due to the toxic pesticide issue since I have Lupus and avoiding toxic chemicals helps me avoid flare ups. For instance, I don't avoid GMOs because I'm afraid of science & evolution but because GMOs require more pesticides that I must avoid due to my disease………..again, this is the whole point in MY choice of organic produce. MY Rh Negative blood type & extremely efficient immune system recognizes "lab creations" as foreign invaders that trigger an autoimmune response. I ran a fever for TWENTY YEARS until I stopped poisoning myself.

  31. One little suggestion – Don't play with mother nature, Please! Plants have always grown in soil. Soil has become the chosen growing medium for fruiting plants through millions of years of evolution. Why say no to evolution? Farming with soil could be more efficient but growing plants in water, in the name of sustainability, should not be the answer. Please remember even few years back DDT was a boon in the farming industry. It was a miracle. What do we think of DDT now?

  32. It's fairly silly that people think conventional nutrients are unsafe.
    The legitimate question is whether they're produced In a sustainable fashion, or if the alternatives are better.

  33. It would be interesting to do a tissue sample comparison between the two to see if they are different. Thanks for your perspective.

  34. There is no natural runnoff from organic farming. If the Earth is covered by covercrops during winter and other soil building times, there is no need for outside rescue solutions for pests, weeds or fungi. The soil organisms convert the rolled down and crimped covercrops into organic matter which feeds the cash crops, the initial roll down acts as a mulch to protect the seedlings and those soil organisms die in the root zones leaving the mineralized parts in a plant soluble form. Theplants use that material to build there own structures, feed their blossums and fruit or roots for us to eat.

    In addition, well rotted composts can add additional fertility applied around the plants or hydrated and aerated to make foliar teas to spray on.

    If the hydroponic solutions are fit to drink, they are organic. If they are fit to drink when spent, they are organic. If not, and they require special disposal, they are not organic.
    Hydroponic growing can be organic if the foods fed to the fish are organic and the inputs to the system are also organic. Many acquiponic systems have centrifugal filters for fish solids and structure mesh filters for.nitro bacter and other phosphorous converting bacteria to live. The root systems of the acquiponic system plants grow fungi among them which provide protection of those root systems with their fungal hyphae.

    What would it take to provide a periodic table of mineralization in the proper ratios to give micro organisms and plants they seek?

    Sea-Agri sells dry sea solids that can be added to acquiponic systems for periodic table type balance.
    Ocean Solutions offers the liquid version and an aductor to feed the fish and plants as well.

    Azomite and other mined solutions or solids can fill in the trace minerals absent from our eroded and depleted soils.

    What is missing here is balance. The Earth possesses the necessary mineralization, though much has been eroded away from unnecessary soil tillage. Proper keylining of fields and pastures, along with deep chisel plowing on contours, allows for an avenue for water, nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and other atmospheric gases to penetrate the surface and feed, nourish and build plants and organisms alike. The retention of rainfall is the difference in success or drought on many acres.

    Hydroponics and acquaponics are said to use less water overall. What about the clean up after spent solutions, filter and trough cleanings?
    In good organic systems what is left but clean water?
    If you build a cattail and other plants marsh to filter the excesses out of the water, it can be reused. If you build a mushroom bed, the spores will use the water to grow and leave nothing behind.

    If people believe that hydroponic growing is as simple as doing the laundry, watewater is going to continue to be a plague to our biosphere.

  35. Nitrates and nitrites cause cancer! You’re a sellout to the industry and your family. Look up nitrates and the OMG GMO movie for yourself. Chemicals are NEVER good for us.

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