Controlled comparisons between soil and hydroponic systems reveal increased water use efficiency and higher lycopene and β-carotene contents in hydroponically grown tomatoes

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number109896
Number of pages8
JournalScientia Horticulturae
Early online date15 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021
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There are many different types of systems used to grow food that are distinguished by ideology or the technology used. It is often difficult to directly compare yield and quality in different growth systems due to the complicated interactions between genotype, physiology and environment. Many published comparisons do not identify and acknowledge confounding factors. However, there is urgency to undertake controlled comparisons to identify the most efficient and effective food production systems, because the world faces considerable challenges to food supply with population rise, ongoing environmental degradation and the threat of climatic change. Here we compared soil with two hydroponic growth systems, drip irrigation and deep-water culture (DWC). It is often claimed that such systems differ in water use, yield and crop quality; however, such comparisons are often confounded by assessing plant and system parameters in different growth environments or where factors that are difficult to standardise between systems, such as nutrient status, are not controlled. We grew tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) in the three growth systems in two replicated experiments, in either a polytunnel or glasshouse. We controlled and monitored water use and nutrient levels across all systems as different fertilizer applications can influence the nutritional values of produce. Plants in the two hydroponic systems transpired less water and were more water-efficient with a lower product water use than plants grown in soil. Fruit yield was similar and total soluble solids and sugar levels were not significantly different between the three growing systems. However, levels of lycopene and β-carotene were either similar or significantly higher in DWC compared to growth systems using soil or drip irrigation. Our results identify hydroponic systems as more water use efficient with DWC also capable of producing higher quality produce.


  • Deep Water culture, Fertilization, Hydroponic, Lycopene, Tomato, Water use efficiency