284 Towards Efficient Nutrient Management in Recirculating Hydroponic Culture

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Bruce BugbeeCrop Physiology Laboratory, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322

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There is an increasing need to recirculate and reuse nutrient solutions to reduce environmental and economic costs. However, one of the weakest points in hydroponics is the lack of information on managing the nutrient solution. Many growers and research scientists dump out nutrient solutions and refill at weekly intervals. Some authors have recommended measuring the concentrations of individual nutrients in solution as a key to nutrient control and maintenance. Dumping and replacing solution is unnecessary. Monitoring ions in solution is unnecessary; in fact the rapid depletion of some nutrients often causes people to add toxic amounts of nutrients to the solution. Monitoring ions in solution is interesting, but it is not the key to effective maintenance. During the past 18 years, we have managed nutrients in closed hydroponic systems according to the principle of “mass balance,” which means that the mass of nutrients is either in solution or in the plants. We add nutrients to the solution depending on what we want the plant to take up. Plants quickly remove their daily ration of some nutrients while other nutrients accumulate in the solution. This means that the concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium can be at low levels in the solution (<0.1 mM) because these nutrients are in the plant where we want them. Maintaining a high concentrations of some nutrients in the solution (especially P, K, and Mn) can result in excessive uptake that can lead to nutrient imbalances.

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