We all agree that we need additives to get the best from our crop. We also agree that certain of these additives are not that good for the environment. We also think that some people use too much additives and are therefore less green in their growing that others. We also all agree that we are a new industry and instead of having to switch over to being green, we can build an industry from scratch that adheres to green rules. 

In our previous piece on additives (which you can find here) we briefly touched on the green aspect of additives. Certain of the things that Steven van Eekeren from Plagron said, almost in passing, made us think. Is organic and green necessarily the same thing? Can we re-use additives and what can we do to lessen their environmental impact? So, we went back to him to ask some more questions. 

Let’s start off by talking about the environmental problems caused by additives 

There are multiple problems, but the two that stand out is phosphorous which has a negative effect on soil life where you grow and then also nitrogen. Nitrogen is currently a big problem in The Netherlands. This is mainly caused by livestock farming, but also from intense agriculture. Nitrogen leaks easily into the environment and when farmers use too much the nitro-dominant crops grow way faster than other crops and this hurts the ecological system of the growing plants which in turn hurts the insects, which in turn hurts the birds – the cycle becomes damaged. We need to produce. We need food and we need medicine but the way you handle these nutrients and your energy and your CO2 needs to be stricter. In The Netherlands we don’t dump the water and we don’t let the heat out. This is where we can win a lot.  

How can these problems be lessened? 

If you grow in a closed system, if you grow indoors and in pots and nothing leaks out into the open, then your impact is a lot less. We also need to look at how to recycle what we use, be it heat, nutrients, water or whatever else we use. The less we lose, the greener we are. The demand is there, so we cannot say we should produce less, we need to make it as green as possible to lessen the environmental impact. We have moved beyond the point where someone can say that we shouldn’t be doing this. If you want to grow, you need to grow responsibly. This is indoors and in a controlled environment in my opinion. By growing indoor you can increase your yield, so you can grow in a smaller space. Indoors, you can also recirculate your water, reusing the heat of your lamps and supplementing the light with LED and sunlight. These things are all do-able under the right circumstances with the correct SOPs.  

How do you make your clients greener? 

We work on a customer-based approach, so there is no single solution. There are a lot of ways to do this. Obviously, the customer needs to be happy and the customer itself need to want to be green. If they don’t care, we can’t do anything about that. We have found that people who grow indoors are generally interested in doing things as efficiently as possible. We help with making schedules for recirculating water systems, we analyse the recirculating water to advise on what needs to be added. In the past when people were growing illicitly, they would just let all the excess water run down the drain. When you are recirculating you catch all the excess water, put it in the batch tank and use it again. Depending on what is in the recirculated water, we make a new nutrient formula for the batch tank. If you want to grow very efficiently you have various of these tanks with a variety of stock solutions. All of these recirculating systems of course have to have filters to prevent bad things from getting carried over. You can have a virus, your water can be affected with salmonella and the filtering system prevents these kind of things to be carried over. You need to both check the quality of the water and see what nutrients need to be added. We analyse these water samples in our lab and then advise on what it needs to be balanced again.  

What other ideas need to be put out there? 

People always assume that organic fertilisers are better and that they are more green. Organic fertilisers can be better, but your substrates should be adapted to using organic fertilisers. Organic fertilisers always leave a certain amount of bio-film. This can cause problems if you run a big operation because the organic material like kelp can clog fine drippers and filters. It’s not just how you want to grow but also a question of can you? This is a problem that sticks its head out after people have set up the system. The best solution is to decide right from the beginning about the system and then make decisions about what that system is capable of and what works best with it. People tend to forget about fertilisers when they do their planning. 

So what you are saying is that natural and eco-friendly is not necessarily the same thing? 

The one question we ask a lot of growers is: Do you want to use organics because you like their characteristics or do you want to be green, because those two are different things. You can use completely synthetic products while still being very environmentally friendly. Growers should really think about this beforehand. If you want to be green you should also make sure that the people with the correct knowledge are in place and make sure you have enough money for all the equipment. Do you want to be green because it’s good PR and good for marketing or do you really want to be green and put in all the effort that is needed. Remember that minerals can be eco-friendly.