Increasing Sustainability of Growing Media Constituents and Stand-Alone Substrates in Soilless Culture Systems


Decreasing arable land, rising urbanization, water scarcity, and climate change exert pressure on agricultural producers. Moving from soil to soilless culture systems can improve water use efficiency, especially in closed-loop systems with a recirculating water/nutrient solution that recaptures the drain water for reuse. However, the question of alternative materials to peat and rockwool, as horticultural substrates, has become increasingly important, due to the despoiling of ecologically important peat bog areas and a pervasive waste problem. In this paper, we provide a comprehensive critical review of current developments in soilless culture, growing media, and future options of using different materials other than peat and rockwool. Apart from growing media properties and their performance from the point of view of plant production, economic and environmental factors are also important. Climate change, CO2 emissions, and other ecological issues will determine and drive the development of soilless culture systems and the choice of growing media in the near future. Bioresources, e.g., treated and untreated waste, as well as renewable raw materials, have great potential to be used as growing media constituents and stand-alone substrates. A waste management strategy aimed at reducing, reusing, and recycling should be further and stronger applied in soilless culture systems. We concluded that the growing media of the future must be available, affordable, and sustainable and meet both quality and environmental requirements from growers and society, respectively.