New Carlisle grower finds success with hydroponic farming

You’d expect a family that has been farming since 1882 would know a thing or two about growing vegetables. It turns out there’s always room for growth.

Growing veggies hydroponically, without using soil, has been a successful new direction for Kevin Davidson of Davidson Family Growers. The business currently grows lettuce, kale and cabbage products using the relatively new method.

The process involves growing plants in water using mineral nutrients in a greenhouse. He’s found enthusiastic clients at the weekly New Carlisle Farmers’ Market, the Champaign County Virtual Farmers’ Market and several restaurants.

“It’s a learning experience,” said Davidson. ”We’ve had a really good response. The market is getting huge.”

Last year’s first crack at hydroponic farming has blossomed into a viable business, as Davidson estimates his business has increased 300 to 400 percent in 2015.

“Business is definitely increasing as last year was a learning period,” he said.

Not only is Davidson marketing his business this year, but word is spreading throughout the area.

“A few people have found me this year,” he said.

Davidson said an advantage of hydroponic growth is inside the greenhouse the plants are not subject to high winds, too much rain or sun, animals and bugs. Pesticides and herbicides are also unnecessary.

The plants fit in a tray with a constant source of water flowing under the root zone. Davidson estimates it takes about six weeks from planting to harvest, about two weeks sooner than conventional soil-based growing.

“Almost anything can be grown hydroponically,” Davidson said. “Potatoes may be an issue.”

If there is a disadvantage, it’s limited sunlight, which Davidson admits has been a problem the past few weeks.

The Davidsons have raised and sold apples, eggs, hogs, sheep and cattle among other things over the years. Davidson didn’t think he’d join the family legacy, earning an engineering degree from the University of Dayton.

His mind changed one semester when he came home to hear the combines running and that appealed more than sitting in an office full-time.

Davidson read and did online research to supplement his knowledge, and said his degree has come in handy.

His father and grandfather both had full-time jobs as well as farming, and said his parents supported his career choice.

He added they had even thought of doing hydroponic growing as far back as 20 years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. Davidson is happy to see it through.

Davidson Family Growers also does no-till grain and hay farming, which reduces carbon emissions, soil erosion and nutrient runoff.

“I’m into soil health, whatever eliminates the excess carbon footprint,” said Davidson.

He’ll next experiment growing hydroponically year-round, but is cautious as less sunlight will be a challenge.

Davidson is considering other potential items to grow hydroponically and knows it could be good for the future. It may be the best option if the population grows and there is less crop space.

“Agriculture has changed tremendously in the last 50 years,” he said. “I’m a dreamer. There’s still a lot of hope out there.”

Davidson plans to expand and build another greenhouse for further hydroponic growing toward the end of the year.

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