Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hydroponics in the valley

Hydroponics in the valley

WHEN THE Israelis settled the arid Negev Desert, they perfected the art of hydroponic gardening. It uses very little water, and produce is grown without soil.

Fast forward to rural eastern Pueblo County. Richard Sandquist, a retired airline pilot, has invested about $100,000 for a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse and grows bib lettuce and other greens. The process uses only 100 to 150 gallons of water per day out of the St. Charles Mesa water system, and Mr. Sandquist reports that the enterprise grosses $2,000 to $2,500 a week selling to high-end restaurants in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver. He says chefs prefer his fresh produced to that trucked in from California, and people who have eaten the lettuce say it’s quite tasty.

This is the kind of forward thinking that’s needed in the agriculture industry of the Lower Arkansas Valley. With farm prices remaining flat, there are pressures on farmers to sell their water rights to cities.

Yet that doesn’t mean ag in the valley must dry up. We’re reminded that new thinking has been part of the valley’s history. John Swink introduced the idea of growing cantaloupes and other melons, and it became a national industry.

Mr. Sandquist notes that the average consumption of lettuce in this country is 6 pounds per person a year. There are 3 million people on the Front Range. That's 18 million pounds of lettuce and most of it currently comes from Arizona and California, so it appears there is a huge market waiting to be served right here in Colorado.

That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, however. Melons, strawberries, cranberries or most any produce can be grown year-round in hydroponic greenhouses. Peppe Gourmet Food on the Mesa grows and sells hydroponic tomatoes year-round.

Some grains can be grown for livestock feed, sprouting to 8 inches high in eight days, rolled up and tossed into a pen. Some farmers are combining aquaculture - raising fish - with hydroponics.

As Mr. Sandquist notes, “It goes on and on and on, as far as what can be done.” This well could be a powerful tool for some farmers in the region to survive and prosper.

Article quoted from:

Drug gangs turn to hydroponics

Drug gangs turn to hydroponics
Paula Doneman, crime editor

VIETNAMESE crime groups have emerged as one of the nation's major suppliers of hydroponically grown marijuana.

Police sources said the Australian-based groups' move into hydroponics was a shift from their long-standing involvement in the heroin trade.

Hydroponics is now the biggest form of cannabis production in Queensland and growers are developing increasingly sophisticated methods.

Drug Squad Detective Inspector Gordon Thompson said crops had been found mostly in suburban houses and to a lesser extent, on small farms.

Drug growers were renting private homes from unsuspecting landlords and converting them to cannabis hothouses, he said.

Hothouses operate around the clock with some plants able to yield more than 10kg of cannabis each.

"Hydro crops are less labour intensive, less likely to be discovered or stolen. (Unlike outdoor crops) they are less likely to get eaten by bugs, cattle and kangaroos ," he said.

Reduced labor costs, higher quality and a faster production rate meant the demand for hydroponically grown cannabis had increased.

Insp Thompson said Queensland police had seized millions of dollars of suspected proceeds of crime from hydroponic growers. Among assets seized were homes, vehicles, huge amounts of cash and jewellery. "I am unable to put a dollar value on the worth of the industry except to say that cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Queensland and the industry is worth millions of tax-free dollars to the growers and distributors," he said.

Last year Queensland police uncovered a sophisticated network of hydroponic nurseries used to grow more than $1.5 million worth of cannabis in four houses in Brisbane's southwest.

Insp Thompson said several Vietnamese suspects, some of whom were illegal immigrants, were charged with several drug offences.

New South Wales Detective Superintendent Ken McKay said the emergence of Vietnamese crime groups in the drug trade had also occurred in Canada.

He said there were indications some of the Australian-based groups in NSW had sent members to Canada to learn to about advanced techniques and technology.

"Anecdotally, some of the Vietnamese criminals have been to Canada to learn about the different types of plants and how to best maximise production levels," he said.

Detective Superintendent Deborah Wallace, commander of the NSW South-East Asian Crime Squad, said Canadian authorities had deported several Australians after raids on hydroponic crops. Supt Wallace said police first noticed the involvement of Vietnamese groups, many based on social or family involvement in NSW crops in 2003.

Story taken from:,5936,17902576%255E3102,00.html