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Punjab University patents indigenous hybrid hydroponic technology

Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, has achieved a milestone by securing a national patent for its hybrid hydroponics technology. The pioneering technology, coined as the first "swadeshi" (indigenous) solution in soilless farming, was developed by Dr. V. P. Sethi, Head, Department of Mechanical Engineering, PAU.

The national patent was awarded to PAU for its inventive enhancement of water and nutrient delivery in pot-based substrate hydroponics. This achievement stems from the amalgamation of two distinct soilless technologies, effectively harnessing their combined advantages. Dr. Satbir Singh Gosal, the Vice-Chancellor of PAU, disclosed the details of this transformative innovation, which holds the potential to reshape the nation's agricultural landscape.

Currently, two primary hydroponic methodologies are practiced worldwide. The first involves substrate hydroponics, where the pot is filled with soilless root media, predominantly suited for crops with extensive root systems like tomatoes, cucumbers, and capsicum. The second technique, water culture, utilizes shallow water ponds for cultivating leafy vegetables with shallow root systems. PAU's innovative solution, known as Hybrid Hydroponics Technology (HHT), ingeniously integrates these two approaches into a regular 12x12-inch pot. This pioneering design features patented modifications, including a gravity-based water and nutrient recovery system that contributes to cost-effectiveness.

Dr. Gosal elaborated on the transformative potential of the low-cost HHT developed by PAU. Beyond its immediate impact on urban vertical gardening, the technology holds promise for large-scale commercial applications. By repurposing fallow or infertile farmland, the HHT can transform non-arable lands into productive spaces for cultivating vegetables, ornamental plants, medicinal herbs, and high-value crops. This innovation presents a unique opportunity for both rural and urban youth, enabling them to undergo training and establish their own small-scale ventures from home. With experience, they can scale up to full-fledged commercial operations, providing a livelihood for themselves, he opined.

Extending an invitation to agritech companies and entrepreneurs, Dr. Gosal urged them to engage in acquiring commercial rights for the "swadeshi" low-cost pot-based HHT. This initiative aims to make the technology accessible for adoption in rural and urban settings for both commercial production and domestic rooftop gardening.

Dr. Ajmer Singh Dhatt, Director of Research at PAU, shared insights into the rigorous testing of HHT over three years. Crops including cucumber, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and capsicum (green, yellow, and red) were cultivated, revealing significantly accelerated growth and higher yields compared to existing pot-based and grow bag soilless technologies, such as the bato bucket (Dutch technology) and the non-recirculation grow bag (Israeli technology).

Highlighting the key benefits of the HHT, Dr. Dhatt revealed that the enhanced nutrient availability through a perforated plate at the root's base, along with increased oxygen supply, accelerates plant growth. The compact root system allows for closer plant spacing, optimizing land usage and potentially increasing yield per unit area. The HHT's design leads to the efficient utilization of water and nutrients, mitigating wastage through leaching, runoff, or evaporation. This aspect is crucial in light of declining water tables and rising soil toxicity, he explained.

Dr. V.P. Sethi offered a breakdown of the economic dimensions of the technology. He informed that the PAU's indigenously developed HHT proves to be three times more cost-effective than imported hydroponic technologies, even without hybridization innovation. The closed-loop water and nutrient recovery system of HHT could potentially save 60-80% of water and approximately 50% of nutrients when compared to conventional polyhouse cultivation with drip irrigation and fertigation methods. This breakthrough technology underscores the relevance of sustainable and resource-efficient farming practices, poised to drive transformative change in the agriculture sector.


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