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How Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Hydroponic Systems Work

Are you tired of the hassles and limitations of traditional gardening methods? Consider hydroponics if you’re looking for a smarter way to grow your plants. It’s a soil-free method of plant cultivation that uses nutrient-rich solutions to provide everything your plants need to grow big and healthy. If you want to take your hydroponic game to the next level, the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) may interest you. This cutting-edge hydroponic system has allowed growers to achieve high yields with minimal water and nutrient usage. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the Nutrient Film Technique, exploring how it works, its benefits, and how you can work with the system’s strengths to grow nutritious and vibrant crops year-round.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is growing plants without soil. It developed as a response to the loss of arable land and the increased produce demand of a modern agriculture system. It needs significantly less water than traditional farming methods and can produce higher yields when paired with climate control technology. Hydroponics isn’t going away anytime soon. With advancements like NFT systems, it’s is only getting more efficient as a tool for water conservation and food production.

What is Nutrient Film Technique?

The Nutrient Film Technique is an active hydroponic system that uses pumps to circulate a thin film of nutrient solution through shallow channels, where plant roots can dip to receive nutrients. The result is an incredibly efficient system that can dramatically reduce water usage. There are a few key components of an NFT system:

Grow Trays/Channels

The grow trays in Nutrient Film Technique systems are shallow, meaning that you can use less water to feed your plants properly. You can also slightly angle them downward to assist the flow of the nutrient solution.

Water Pump

The water pump takes the nutrient solution from the nutrient reservoir to the grow trays. This is a point of failure in the system, meaning that if it stops working, your plants will quickly lose access to the solution and may wilt or die.

Air Stone/Air Pump

The water pump performs an important role in the success of your NFT system. The air stone’s primary function is to provide aeration and oxygenation to the nutrient solution. That helps promote healthy root growth and prevent damaging root rot. Additionally, the bubbling action from the air stone helps to circulate the nutrient solution. This ensures that all the roots receive equal access to nutrients and prevents stagnant pockets of water from developing, which can lead to the buildup of harmful pathogens.

Nutrient Solution

The nutrient solution is the bread and butter of the Nutrient Film Technique system. Without it, the plants wouldn’t have what they need to grow. This can be considered equivalent to fertilizer in traditional agriculture. A few key elements of the nutrient solution might be regarded as hydroponics’ “special sauce”: Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. After a trip through the system, the nutrient solution returns to the reservoir and can be reused.

NFT systems are one of the most water-efficient hydroponic methods available. It can be challenging to quantify because the amount of water savings differs from plant to plant and can change depending on the environment. However, most estimates put the water savings of NFT systems at around 90% over other traditional farming.

Advantages of NFT Hydroponics

NFT systems have several advantages over other hydroponic techniques. Here are three key benefits.

1. Higher Percentage of Water Conservation

Hydroponic NFT systems use a precise delivery system to provide water and nutrients directly to the plant roots, reducing the water required to maintain healthy plant growth. This targeted delivery system ensures water is used only where needed, reducing overall water consumption.

2. Improved Oxygenation

In traditional soil-based systems, the roots are surrounded by soil, which can become compacted and limit the amount of oxygen that reaches the roots. In hydroponic Nutrient Film Technique systems, the roots are suspended in the air, which allows for increased oxygenation and better nutrient uptake.

3. Better Nutrient Absorption

In traditional soil-based growing systems, nutrients can become bound to soil particles and unavailable for plant uptake. NFT systems deliver nutrients directly to the roots and are not subject to soil binding, reducing nutrient loss and improving nutrient absorption.

Vertical farming produce grown in an NFT hydroponic system.
Hydroponic NFT systems maximize space and resources, producing higher yields in smaller areas.

You can use these systems to grow a variety of crops, but leafy greens with a short growth period work best. They do well in NFT systems because of their minimal root system and quick development.

Challenges of NFT Hydroponics

NFT systems can be challenging for beginner growers to handle. Because it requires moving parts, there’s the chance that a water pump could fail and ruin your entire crop. The best way to prevent this catastrophe is to perform regular maintenance checks on your system to ensure everything remains in good working order.

An NFT system can only be efficient if its trays are the right length. If trays are too long, plants near the end of the tray may receive fewer nutrients, creating an uneven distribution of nutrients. Because of this, it’s essential to make sure that channels inside NFT systems are not too long. Our head grower here at Pure Greens recommends using trays no longer than 30 ft long.

Nutrient Film Technique Maintenance

Because Nutrient Film Technique systems don’t have a cycle to keep track of, optimize, and maintain, they’re easier to maintain once set up. Unlike other hydroponic systems, they don’t require a timed release of nutrient solution. That means that after set-up, the system will recirculate its solution automatically.

However, NFT systems can require more intensive temperature controls when growers attempt to use the system at full efficiency. Because the nutrient solution is recirculating through the system, it’s imperative to check the temperature of the liquid inside your system. By doing this, you should be able to identify problem areas and address them before they come up.


Overall, Nutrient Film Technique systems are an exciting advancement in the field of hydroponics. If you want to learn more about setting up your own NFT hydroponic farm, you may be interested in our Pure Greens Container Farms. As experts in hydroponics and container farming, we’re ready to answer any questions you might have. Talk with us today!

Looking for more? Watch this video to learn about the economics of container farming