Water is a resource that is almost as scarce as it is necessary; not only in terms of hydration and health, but also for socio-economic and energy development, as well as for food production. In relation to the latter, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that 70% of the world’s water extraction is destined for agricultural production. In a report issued by this entity, it is explained that agriculture is the largest producer of wastewater, as it emits large quantities of agrochemicals, organic matter and sediments.
This paradigm gives rise to initiatives that seek responsible consumption of water resources in agricultural production, as well as solving other problems that may present traditional crops. A clear example is hydroponics, a cultivation technique that basically consists of substituting agricultural soil with mineral solutions.
Hydroponics is a cultivation system based on the substitution of agricultural soil by mineral solutions
In 2014, Salvador Ruiz worked in America developing hydroponic systems all over the world. In one of his searches for new clients he came to Spain, where he met Rafa Pereira, an entrepreneur who worked with homemade hydroponic systems in the Vigo area. Speaking, as Salvador explains, “of their ideas and concerns”, they decide to create their own company in this sector: H2hydroponics, which is formally established in 2015.
The development of H2hydroponics
In June of the same year they would build a 250m² research centre on the Porto do Molle industrial estate (Nigrán, Pontevedra), consisting of a high-tech greenhouse. In September of the same year, it would launch the NFT tube system, which would become, according to Salvador, one of its star products, thanks to the reliability of its extension over time.
A curious fact is the expansion of the business activity, since where before it went abroad. “Spain is an agricultural power, and the traditional system is deeply rooted”, explains the founding partner. So they started the house on the roof: the company quickly made a name for itself on the international market, exporting to a total of 19 countries.
The role of environmental awareness
However, the growing wave of environmental awareness, as well as limitations in the use of water, led the company to begin to expand its activity in Spain as well. “Hydroponic agriculture can reduce water consumption by 90 to 95%“, explains Salvador.
“People are becoming increasingly aware not only of reducing pollution or water consumption, but also of eating healthy”. Because in addition to reducing water costs, this system also minimizes waste emissions and electricity consumption. In this sense, the expansion of the company throughout the national territory came hand in hand with the progressive evolution of the thinking of society.
Ice and fire: from Greenland to Dubai
H2hydroponics is a company that makes no distinctions of activity or size. “We work as much with enthusiastic people, people who have just started and small producers as with large companies,” says Salvador.
But there are two concrete projects that stand out from the rest for their success, two sides of the same coin that solve problems where they are. Salvador also explains that his goal is to ensure that all products meet a series of requirements that make them suitable for commercial activity.
The founding member states that the very low temperatures on the frozen island of Greenland (which can reach 20 or 30ºC below zero) make the traditional cultivation of some vegetable products totally difficult.
However, some shelves with a hydroponic production system fitted out inside a warehouse in a building are sufficient to obtain fresh leafy vegetables. The gratitude of their customers can be seen in the deal: “When we go to a restaurant, for example, we sit at the table of honor”.
In Dubai, on the other hand, the opposite is true. Temperatures are so high that it is difficult to consume products that cannot withstand several days: “Temperatures sometimes reach 50ºC; too hot for some elements”. However, the systems that the company has installed in greenhouses make it possible to reduce the temperature to around 30ºC, which is already reasonable for vegetable crops.
The advantages of hydroponic agriculture
When talking about figures and in terms of profitability, Salvador states that with hydroponic cultivation is obtained 4 or 5 times more production than with traditional. This is due, in part, to the fact that it is possible to carry out a greater number of cycles, since the crops are not subject to the vicissitudes of the meteorological conditions.
“With the hydroponic crop you get 4 or 5 times more production than with the traditional”
The founding partner refers to the concept of “plant factory” in terms of methodology: what is sought, and which is also possible due to the independence of the meteorological factor, is a uniform production.
As far as the vision of the future is concerned, the main challenge is to extend and consolidate their presence in the Spanish market. The objective is to guarantee the availability of resources for the next generations, to reduce pollution and to move towards healthy eating, hand in hand with quality vegetables.
“Agriculture is a sector that lags far behind other industries, which also gives it enormous potential to test new concepts,” says Salvador. None of the partners are afraid of new challenges; in fact, this Thursday, June 27, they will travel to Paris. Why? Evaluating a building for the creation of a hydroponic farm.