A R13.8-million aeroponics barley sprout grass growing system is being sup- plied by South African manufacturer Qwik-Gro to the Sheikh of Qatar, in the Middle East, and is expected to partially feed about 17 000 livestock with the initial production of 40 t of fresh barley grass sprout fodder a day.
“The installation of the systems will be executed in two phases. “We plan to eventually produce 80 t of fresh barley sprout fodder a day, feeding 4 000 Holstein Frisian dairy cows, 9 000 sheep and 4 000 goats,” says aeroponics systems manufacturer Qwik-Gro founder Louis Visser.
He notes that, with the constant need for cost-effective solutions and an increase in production and transport costs, plant growing through the aeroponics process proves to be an economical solution.
Aeroponics involves growing plants in a mist environment without using soil or an aggregate medium, which is commonly known as hydroponics. Qwik-Gro manufactures and supplies aeroponic growing units to farmers in the agriculture sector. The systems are available in standard sizes, ranging from 280 kg to 10 000 kg a day of production output.
“The seeds are placed into trays in a controlled manner according to the output design of the system. “The internal environment and irrigation is automatically controlled for optimum growth and increased germination. Barley grass does not require nutrients or fertilisers and is grown organically, without the use of pesticides,” explains Visser.
Compared with traditional growing methods that require at least 80 ℓ to 90 ℓ of water for every kilogram of fodder feed harvested and a growth period of 8 to 12 weeks, the aeroponic grow unit requires less than 2.5 ℓ of water for every kilogram of fodder feed grown and only has a harvesting output period of seven days, he says. “In addition, to grow 10 t of barley sprout fodder feed a day using conventional method requires 3 460 ha of land, whereas the aeroponic method requires only 480 m² to produce the same yield,” Visser points out.
He adds that growing barley in the conventional manner can only yield a crop once a year while Qwik-Gro systems can produce barley sprouts for feed 365 days a year. Under feedlot conditions, 250 sheep can be fed on 1 ha, compared with 250 sheep being fed on 625 ha applying good conventional grazing.
“A farmer feeding cattle with aeroponic barley green sprout fodder could sell 200 head of cattle up to three times a year, compared with a farmer who uses good paddock grazing methods who can only sell 200 head of cattle once a year,” highlights Visser.
The Qwik-Gro aeroponic units are supplied with formulated education packs and operator training to ensure successful continuous production. The units are computer-controlled, which reduces labour cost and ensures increased quality and quantity of product output. The units are available in a range of sizes, depending on farmers’ requirements, with aeroponic fodder growing units facilitating the constant growth of high-quality feed 365 days a year, irrespective of the weather.
The units are freestanding, automatic, self- contained, completely insulated from any external atmospheric conditions and can operate in temperatures from –15 °C to 50 °C, explains the company.
A variety of grass fodder can be grown, including rice, corn, oat, lucerne, rye, teff and lupine grass. However, barley grass seems to be the most economical, with the highest nutritional value for every growing cycle, Visser points out.
He states that another advantage of the units is that pests and diseases are eliminated from the controlled growing environment, advancing plant development, health and growth, as well as the flowering and fruiting for any given plant species and cultivars, compared with those grown in a medium.