From Aquaculture to Aquaponics: The advantages of growing produce with fish waste
Aquaponics can be defined as the symbiotic relationship between plants and fish. Combining the techniques of hydroponics (soilless crop production) and aquaculture (farm raising fish), this closed loop system creates an ideal environment for both the crops and fish. Here at Growers Supply, we have been experimenting with aquaponics for years, and we wanted to share some of the benefits that we have found from incorporating an aquaponics system into existing aquaculture and hydroponic farms.
Waste Water Reduction
For farmers that are involved in aquaculture, disposing of waste water is a constant concern. With tanks ranging in size from 500 to 500,000 gallons, waste water is a major byproduct of aquaculture, and it must be disposed of properly. In order to do this, a permit must be obtained from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, which has been established to control and oversee direct discharges of waste water into all navigable waters. With waste water being produced daily, the removal of unsanitary water has become an extremely hot topic within the aquaculture community.
Aquaponics provides a solution to the issue of waste water removal because of the closed system design. In aquaponics, the waste water from the fish is run through a bio-filtration system where ammonia is converted into nitrite, and the nitrite is then converted into nitrate, which the plants feed on. This filtration process provides nutrition for the crops, and in turn, the crops filter out toxins from the water before it returns to the fish tanks. In aquaponics, the need for waste water removal is eliminated due to the natural, symbiotic relationship between plants and fish. The water within the system is constantly re-circulated from plants, to fish and back again, and through this process the water quality remains consistent and ideal.
Decreased operating costs
For aquaculture and hydroponic growers alike, an aquaponics system provides an opportunity to reduce overall operating costs. For aquaculture farmers, cutting costs can be achieved by reducing overall water usage. In aquaponics, the water is in constant re-circulation throughout the system, meaning that water is only lost due to evaporation, overflow and natural absorption by the plants. Compared to the numerous gallons of waste water that are produced in traditional aquaculture farming, growing with aquaponics provides a significant reduction in the overall water consumption of farm raised fish.
For hydroponic farmers, reduced operating costs can be seen in the form of cutting down on nutrients. With the fish naturally providing nutrition for the crops, the need to add nutrients to your water supply is reduced, which saves on overall operating costs and can minimize labor requirements. For your aquaponics system, you will still need to add supplemental amounts of iron, calcium and potassium, but adding gallons of nutritional supplements to your water supply for each harvest can be avoided. Simply providing fish food each day and regularly monitoring (and adjusting if necessary) the pH level of the water is all that you need to do to ensure that the plants are able to absorb the available nutrients. With these systems, maintaining an ideal growing environment is as easy as feeding the fish, regularly monitoring the waters pH levels and refilling water as needed.
Increased profit opportunity
With aquaponics you are not held to just one market for sales. By producing both fish and crops, you are able to reach a larger customer base and open your income opportunities greatly. Depending on the type of fish, you are able to harvest your fish in a matter of months, while crops such as lettuce will be ready for harvest in just 6-8 weeks. This not only provides a consistent income opportunity, but also increases your market. For aquaculture farmers, aquaponics provides a source of income during the period of time where the fish are not yet ready for harvest, and for hydroponic farmers, it creates an additional source of income to produce the same product, all while requiring less inputs.
Have some additional questions about aquaponics? Interested in getting a system of your own? Give us a call at 1.800.476.9715 to speak with one of our Aquaponic Specialists, or stop by www.GrowersSupply.com.