Hydroponics offer glimmer of hope

Hydroponic production of certain grains can, within eight days, provide farmers with a good source of nutrition for their animals.

04 September 2019 | Agriculture

The cost of supplementary feed can be exorbitant and strenuous on a farmer's pocket, however, Agritech Namibia believes hydroponically produced fodder is the answer farmers have been looking for to get affordable and sustainable fodder for their animals.

According to Meatco, through hydroponics, one can grow fodder from barley, or maize, and harvest in eight days.

The company says that worldwide, hydroponic production of crops such as lettuce is becoming increasingly popular and it is already commonplace in Scandinavia, the Benelux region, Southeast Asia, Russia, Brazil, Japan and Australia. In the case of hydroponics, the plants grow on a substrate rather than in the soil and are fed by water which is enriched with nutrients.

Meatco had a walk-through the Agritech Namibia project model in Windhoek.

Lawson Manyika, from Agritech Namibia, explained hydroponic fodder production which involves supplying cereal grain with necessary moisture and nutrients to promote germination and plant growth in the absence of a solid growing medium such as soil.

“The resulting green shoots and root mat are harvested and can be mixed with other feeds to create nutritional fodder for livestock. The grain responds to the supply of moisture and nutrients by germinating, sprouting and then producing a 200 to 250 mm long vegetative green shoot with interwoven roots within five to eight days.”

Agritech Namibia and the Namibia National Farmers union (NNFU), who have partnered to intensify lobbying for the project, believe that the innovation by Agritech has the potential to succeed in the Namibian climate. According to NNFU executive director, Mushobanji Mwilima, in the midst of the drought that Namibia is faced with, hydroponic fodder can ensure that farmers are able to produce livestock feed for themselves sustainably and cheaply.

Explaining the process, Manyika said seeds are soaked in water for four hours to absorb enough moisture for germination. These are placed in a germination chamber for 24 hours until sprouts appear, and then moved to growing trays.

The seed, according to Manyika, has enough nutrients and energy for germination and when shoots appear it is able to survive to a certain stage.

“By the third day, the plants will be 5 to 10 centimetres and from day four to six they will reach 20 to 25 cm. By day seven and eight the plants will be 25 to 30 cm and the seed will be depleted of nutrients. This would be the perfect time for farmers to harvest without additional costs,” Manyika said.

Besides its success in Europe, other countries on the continent like Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa have already been practising this type of fodder production for a number of years with great success. Namibian farmers have now been made aware of this technology for them to get to grips with climate change, which causes prolonged droughts.

Meatco says that currently, a 50 kg bag of barley costs around N$300 to N$350. However, with hydroponics a farmer can produce 10-fold the input, meaning, if done correctly and under the right conditions, a 50kg bag of barley can produce close to half a tonne of fodder.

Overall, adding fodder to the feed regimen of livestock will result in direct benefits to the farm. According to Meatco growing fodder hydroponically is more efficient than any other means of producing feed for livestock.

“By feeding fodder, you will greatly reduce the amount of resources needed to maintain your animals and your farm. Fodder is a more natural feed and is comparable to the forage the digestive systems of livestock and horses were designed to process. Due to its increased digestibility and the availability of nutrients, there is a wide range of benefits to feeding fodder over grains and concentrates. Not only will animals be healthier and have a better quality of life, they will also be more productive and profitable,” says Meatco.

STAFF REPORTER

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