Aquaponic Gardening

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own a small (5 acre) farm in pa

want to start a micro leafy-green vegies/fresh water prawn

aquaponics unit by this spring - have contacts with a pa

university with an aquaculture program and also a 12k sq.ft.

commercial aquaponics unit attached to it. I am looking for 

a good business plan 

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Keep in mind that prawns require lots of space per creature and the giant tiger prawns also require quite warm water so in PA you will need to plan quite a bit of heating into the system for year round growth.

There are quite a few good internet resources about raising prawns - most I think will tell you that it would be commercially very difficult to do it economically and even successfully.  Maybe that is a good challenge to be one of the first to make it happen!

Most commercial prawn production gets done where they have acres upon acres of ponds in a climate where they don't need greenhouses or heating to keep them going.  I think production in conjunction with rice is probably the way to go for them in the right climate.

In LA that is how they raise mud bugs (crawfish) by seeding them in natural water and rice production fields.

really a business plan for AP is as unique as the system it pertains to. anyone selling a "on stop shop" for a business plan is selling you their best guess estimates for the "average system" what ever that is.

a few points to look out for when building the budget

1. account for weather change

2. pick a species of fish that can handle the climate and also demands a decent price in the market (if you're looking to go into fish production)

3 under estimate the production of veggies... im talking various consecutive failure rates. ( sprouting failure, growth failure, product failure. the last one means not pretty enough to sell.) do multiple scenarios with increasing failure rates starting at the base, which is the sprout. if your income from the vegetable sales price can handle a 25% - 15% - 30% failure rate, then you shouldnt have any issues... because just because you can plant 1000 seeds, that doesnt mean you'll have 1000 healthy heads of lettuce for sale in the end... 1000 seeds at a 30% failure rate to sprout leaves you around 600 plants. now out of those plants that you transfer from the seeding tbales to the system you lose another 15% to bugs or root rot that leaves you with around 510 plants. now out of those some leaves will be necrotic (have black spots) or some heads wont form properly, or some heads have more bug damage, or they are disfigured due to competition for sunlight, so you take away another 30% and that leaves you with 357 sellable plants. now granted these are some extreme failure rates, but it's always good to look at what could go wrong.

4. make sure you have a market for what you're trying to sell. (this is where a lot of people go wrong)

5. check on the price of electricity, then factor that into the energy necessary for running all of your pumps, lights (if necessary), heating and cooling ( if necessary).

6. factor in labor costs. <---- very big deal!

7. value added options? cleaning lettuce eon site to make it ready to eat, lettuce mixes, fresh cleaned basil, fresh cleaned mint, things like that.

8. marketing. - packaging is key, if your product doesnt look pretty, people will over look it.

9. transportation costs. how are you going to get the product to the people?

10. food safety certification. 

11. the cost of water

12. ease of access to building materials and things like the pH buffers sanitation chemicals, and replacement fish stock should something go horribly wrong.

13 SOP's (standard operating procedure) this will prevent injury, show trace back should there be an issue with food born illness, help with record keeping, and pretty much cover the day to day activities that will ensure a bank that you know what you're doing and should there be a problem how you're prepared to handle it.

... there's more... but my eyes are getting tired...  unless you can sit down with someone and go over those points and numerous others... getting commercial advice from some one that has all of the answers without asking any questions is quite risky...

Good answers there Damon.

I tend to cringe when people show up asking for an "off the shelf" business plan.

I'm sure that there are some "aquaponics" consultants.. that have such plans on their shelves TCL... for a small, large fee...

They usually keep them right next door to the snake oil bottles...

And it still makes me cringe Rupe 

This guy is doing something similar to what you want to do he offers a franchise oppertunity wich includes a business plan. Might be worth checking out

My plan is to go big also.  I have a 1 1/2 acre backyard, but I owned 62 acres of land 30 miles from here.  The land has no usage at all, except for deer hunting. If I can, or anyone can help me make it work, my 62 acres of land can be the farm.

Damon's reply is excellent!  Because there are so many special needs/requirements for climate it would be best to really check your financials.  We are starting a commercial aquaponics farm here in Southern California and have a number of really positive things going for us.  Being successful is dependent on so many things.  There simply is not a BP for aquaponics that would be a "one size fits all".  I've been working out our plan for 5 months.

Manny- please keep your vision close. Reality is one thing, pessimism is another. Inspiration is truly underrated on this forum, which is surprising.There is still a lot left to learn and share and do with aquaponics.

I was a commercial horticulture grower in the upper Midwest for 20 years and I never had more than 30% failure annually across the board. My operation covered almost 3 acres. While there were challenges in weather, performance and markets- I learned and modified my activity to make it work. From that POV, I don't expect aquaponics to be different.

My main consideration was what my market wanted and my main operational costs were heating (I had to use propane) and labor. With proper planning, plant costs were actually minimal and losses were acceptable and expected. Pay attention to detail, stay closely involved and you will be able to make adjustments that will minimize your risk and costs.

The designs for aquaponics are new to a lot of folks- but the science and the marketplace is the same as it ever was. I've run numbers and projections for a commercial operation, and I remain encouraged that it is profitable. For me, the best part about aquaponics is not the potential for money, but the soulful impact it can make on suffering communities.

Examine and research as much as you can on your own. It is so true that every situation is different, but be true to yourself and stay inspired!

im all for the commercialization of AP, in fact that's my concentration. the point i was trying to make is people get side tracked by production figures and forget about the small details... and sadly, most production figure are either wrong, or misrepresented.

and to generalize the forum as lacking innovation? just a few threads over we're discussing the possibilities of a sustainable fishless system... an AP system without fish.... sounds pretty innovative to me...

but you are right on the aspect of market demands... the main problem with going commercial is the only real data as to annual yield rates is centered around lettuce... a relatively low value crop... there's little to nothing for high value crops grown aquaponically such as tomatoes, beans, or cucumbers on a commercial level... really all the data that is around only talks about what plants will survive what type of system, and it's basically left at that... so it's difficult to build a business plan when your output numbers are completely speculative... 

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