The land, water, and energy requirements of hydroponics were compared to those of conventional agriculture by example of lettuce production in Yuma, Arizona, USA. Data were obtained from crop budgets and governmental agricultural statistics, and contrasted with theoretical data for hydroponic lettuce production derived by using engineering equations populated with literature values. Yields of lettuce per greenhouse unit (815 m2) of 41 ± 6.1 kg/m2/y had water and energy demands of 20 ± 3.8 L/kg/y and 90,000 ± 11,000 kJ/kg/y (±standard deviation), respectively. In comparison, conventional production yielded 3.9 ± 0.21 kg/m2/y of produce, with water and energy demands of 250 ± 25 L/kg/y and 1100 ± 75 kJ/kg/y, respectively. Hydroponics offered 11 ± 1.7 times higher yields but required 82 ± 11 times more energy compared to conventionally produced lettuce. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first quantitative comparison of conventional and hydroponic produce production by example of lettuce grown in the southwestern United States. It identified energy availability as a major factor in assessing the sustainability of hydroponics, and it points to water-scarce settings offering an abundance of renewable energy (e.g., from solar, geothermal, or wind power) as particularly attractive regions for hydroponic agriculture.
Keywords: Arizona; agriculture; energy; hydroponics; land use; lettuce; sustainability; water.