Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

So much discussions have come about regarding the viability of aquaponics as a business.


Can it work, or not?

and why?

In Canada (Toronto specifically) the focus for local has been huge. Being in a cold climate we cannot source certain products locally, and they come from California, or Mexico. I have no experience running aquaponics on a huge level (I've got a small setup on the second floor of my restaurant)

But what I dont get, is why is a hyroponic/greenhouse setup selling, say cucumbers viable?

We have greenhouses in Ontario growing peppers, cucumbers,  year-round in a cold climate. so these guys have heating costs in the winter, probably artificial light for the lack of sun in the winter - and I am sure they are turning a profit? (They wouldn't be in business if they werent making money!)

Regarding additional income streams such as consulting, training, farm tours

That is all part of the business IMO. My restaurants turn a profit from all aspects of the business. (ie. Catering) but are base is dining in/taking out)

If you look at my restaurant model, I've got 3 cooks, 2 waitresses, cost of rent, heat, hydro, enormous food cost (30-40% in many cases) TONS of competition, and at the end of the day we turn a profit.

from 7am to 10am we sell 3 eggs, 3 bacon, homefries, toast and coffee for 3.99!! plus I got to pay all those other costs. but money is made because of turn-over.

Why NOT aquaponics? (forgive my lack of knowledge)

But if you've got say, 4000 sq. feet of grow beds, ample lighting etc. and you follow what most of the experts are saying. (ie. say 27 holes per 2X4 raft)and decide to grow, say buttercrunch lettuce

4000 sq. feet should technically give you a gross production of 13,500 heads of lettuce?

obviously you stagger the harvest cycles, have an ample amount of seedlings ready to replace the harvest.

Is it unrealistic that 4000. sq. feet of grow beds, with proper lighting, fish to plant population etc. will output, say 10,000 heads a month?

am I missing something here? (again, forgive my lack of knowledge regarding aquaponics, growth times)

I'd love to dive in and learn aquaponics, grow year-round for the many, many local restaurants that "do" source locally but simply cannot find them.

I guess I am trying to figure out what one could expect out of total production, then discuss the input costs etc.

Would love to hear your opinions.

Views: 7360

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Averan, I very much like your opinion as well as your vision of what the future of commercial AP should be. Your suggestions of 'breaking out of this box...and moving toward imagining a...sustainable future, I wholeheartedly applaud. (My wife admins one of the largest (not for profit) permaculture forums in the Serbian language, and I am trying to run an organic pesticide/GMO/herbicide/water conscious farm, as best as I can. With AP being a piece in the farm whole...I do not employ paid help often, Wwoofers come traveling through give a hand at times, and I barter for goods and services with my neighbors rather than taking money from them...I'm good at fixing computers/cell phones and digital things)...but commercial  anything is a long ways off from the ideas you espouse here...your talking about sustainable ecosystems here and the OP is talking about commercial viability of a 'new' mode of agriculture within the contexts of modern western society...(and I'm playing 'devils advocate' I suppose)...Or being realistic within the parameters of the society which we occupy TODAY/NOW as they apply to a business free market realm...and within that realm, under the current 'rules of the game' AP is just not commercially viable (well mostly) whether you are adding driftwood/tannins or HCL to your top up water to bring the pH down either way AP is just not cutting it for some reason?

Why is that? You have viable aquaculture business' in operation. You also have viable hydroponic business in operation. Why are there not any viable Aquaponic business' in operation??? This great marriage of fish and plants seems devoid of the commercial benefits of either of the two industries when taken separately?!? 

And I mean Commercial with a capital C. Not mom and pop outfits putting out a few thousand heads of lettuce a month not making a profit off of either the fish nor the plants? 

What then is wrong with the AP model within the contexts of present day society (again, from a commercial perspective).

I have built a 2131 sq. foot greenhouse to house a mixed media design AP system knowing all of this...So please don't think I'm coming from an all 'business' angle...I don't expect to make much money from it...I still want to do it though and have my own reasons (none of which have much to do with any Shiny-Cadillacness-money-making) though my hope is to somewhat break even and/or be able to cover expenses from other portions of the farms (or my) activities...That though is a 'fuck all' business plan...I am aware of that. Other folks may not be. There seems to be a lot of "Why it's easy as pie...what could be simpler...just feed the fish and watch your garden grow"...type ideas being floated about (not by you, just in general). This is pure bullocks in a commercial or even 'hobby farm' setting.

AP, in a NON backyard setting is NOT easy, and is NOT necessarily going to make someone loads of money. And is NOT even cheap. There are MUCH cheaper ways of growing your own food INCLUDING Classical Hydro and Hydro-Organic and Bio-Ponics in most ALL of its incarnations, is going to be CHEAPER. But, again, who really gets into this because its cheap...or even sustainable, I mean really.

But there seem to be commercial courses and training being floated about (for heavy fees quite often) by people who's own business' are not living up to the promises they preach to their course attendees...or better yet, have no such business or running commercial AP system to begin with.

Or sell such ideas within the feel-good-vibe of "sustainability" and totally side step things like PVC, phthalates, the 'unsustainability' of air-pumps, water pumps, additional lighting in some cases...LDPE, HDPE, EDPM, PE, PPE and a WHOLE HOST of plastics and things that are brought to us by the petro-chemical industry. The very same industry AP is supposed to help us function without...

AP can be (and maybe in some distant future in a different context will be) great, but I think the problem is that Averan, you are too correct (if I read you correctly). The problem lies not within the fundamentals of AP, but within the fundamental structures and principles of the societal context to which it is trying to be applied...Round peg, Square hole.



Averan said:

@Nate: my point is that there are 2 very different ways to supply the inputs.  1. 'artificially', by dumping in some specific chemical at the time you think it is needed. 2. 'pseudo-naturally', via slow-release or other bio-activity of a resident component in the system.  The first approach is prone to constant oversight and adjustment and prodding.  The second mimics nature more closely and tends to smooth out changes in any particular chemical/nutrient.

Just look at what happens in nature:  a system with low diversity/complexity is much more prone to failure/disaster than one with higher complexity.  The built-in complexity creates backup systems that help to buffer changes.  Its like having a basketball team with only starter players and no bench.  A single source of food/nutrient is another good example of this.  Redundancy is the name of the game.

@ Vlad: no.  but then i purposely have gravel and wood in my fish habitat that are natural equivalents.

I'm not suggesting we can ever create an artifical aquaponic ecosystem that doesn't need any external inputs, but rather that the more you integrate these inputs into your system as resident components the more stable and sustain-able it will be.

Some natural processes require a minimum scale to function though, which we can never totally replicate without reverting society back to hunter-gatherers!

imo, the future of commercial aquaponics will look very different from what we tend to imagine when we think of a farm or greenhouse.  and, imo, trying to take this amazing natural system and force it into a manmade box of preconceptions, trying to make it work the way we want when we want, is going to cause quite a bit of frustration and disappointment.  i'm merely suggesting we seriously consider breaking out of this box as we move forward imagining a healthy sustainable future.

Take my rant with a big grain of salt, it'll taste better.  :D  haha!

You put that much better than I ever could have...wish I would have seen it earlier, could have spared everyone from my ranting... :)

Averan said:

I acknowledge that not many people will really understand what I'm proposing.  The typical modern human looks at nature as a resource to use as they see fit, usually forcing nature to fit their manmade desires and preconceptions.  I'd love to see more people let go of that a little and experiment with adapting their desires and needs to fit with what nature already does so well (permaculture).

Unfortunately, paradigm shifts like this aren't easy and may require that we completely redefine civilization and the way that we relate to food, each other and our natural resources.  This is actually one of the most inspiring aspects of aquaponics for me!  It is also why I think we will continue to have trouble making AP fit into the commercial agricultural box that is currently the accepted norm.  It might just be that AP can never be fully assimilated into mainstream agriculture and that we may need to approach the 'problem' of food production and acquiring the resources we need to live happily (currently = make $ to buy stuff) from an entirely different angle.

Is commercial aquaponics a viable business?  Yes.  No.  Sometimes.  It depends.  Currently though, I don't think the time and conditions are right for it to be viable universally across-the-board at the scale necessary in order to earn the 6-figure salary people want.

It all comes back to scale and niche.  At the right scale and in the right niche, it totally works.  But do you want to live in that niche?

That said, I hope pioneering folks continue to explore and experiment as they just might figure out how to make it work!

Well, I don't think any of us here want to be involved with Agriculture, which Dr. Alan Bartlett defines this way: "Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food." I think that when we are discussing Commercial Aquaponics we are not talking about competing against petrol-chemical food. Our petroleum reserves will run out in our life time or get to the point where some food (veggies) can't be afforded by many, especially the poor. Just look at the indexes and you can see the exponential growth Dr. Bartlett warns of. Commercial Aquaponics is bringing some (not all) food production to a local level where fuel inputs are minimized and food prices can be stabilized.  We don't have all the answers yet but we can be committed to looking for them. A few of us will be brave enough to stick our necks out.


Nate Storey said:

Again Avery, I don't disagree with you.  But the difference in our opinions is that you are describing a natural ecosystem, whereas I am describing agriculture.

Averan said:

@Nate: my point is that there are 2 very different ways to supply the inputs.  1. 'artificially', by dumping in some specific chemical at the time you think it is needed. 2. 'pseudo-naturally', via slow-release or other bio-activity of a resident component in the system.  The first approach is prone to constant oversight and adjustment and prodding.  The second mimics nature more closely and tends to smooth out changes in any particular chemical/nutrient.

Just look at what happens in nature:  a system with low diversity/complexity is much more prone to failure/disaster than one with higher complexity.  The built-in complexity creates backup systems that help to buffer changes.  Its like having a basketball team with only starter players and no bench.  A single source of food/nutrient is another good example of this.  Redundancy is the name of the game.

@ Vlad: no.  but then i purposely have gravel and wood in my fish habitat that are natural equivalents.

I'm not suggesting we can ever create an artifical aquaponic ecosystem that doesn't need any external inputs, but rather that the more you integrate these inputs into your system as resident components the more stable and sustain-able it will be.

Some natural processes require a minimum scale to function though, which we can never totally replicate without reverting society back to hunter-gatherers!

imo, the future of commercial aquaponics will look very different from what we tend to imagine when we think of a farm or greenhouse.  and, imo, trying to take this amazing natural system and force it into a manmade box of preconceptions, trying to make it work the way we want when we want, is going to cause quite a bit of frustration and disappointment.  i'm merely suggesting we seriously consider breaking out of this box as we move forward imagining a healthy sustainable future.

Take my rant with a big grain of salt, it'll taste better.  :D  haha!

@Vlad: exactly!

Just a quick comment having just come back from the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association conference. I haven't read all this thread, so forgive me if I repeat someone else's point. The pure aquaculture people (RAS and/or pond) have a really slim profit margin to deal with too (at least, they do in the US).The message I got from them was:

(1) Set your own price - don't let the market dictate - assert the value of your product. "Local is the new Organic" - use people's strong desire to be connected to their food to set a fair price that lets you survive.

(2) Diversify - add site tourism, expensive per-seat dinners by known chefs, sell solids as fertilizer, etc., etc.

I realize it's easy to just say this stuff. I'm just passing along that there were several aquaculturists who had branched out into farm tourism, catch-your-own-fish, serving farm-based dinners, a small shop with smoked fish products, etc. who seem to be happier than those simply selling fillets at world market prices.

If anything, aquaponics has even more tourism value than aquaculture alone.

Yes but using only the parameters of "food miles",  doesn't really help the cause of AP out AT ALL, as again there are cheaper ways to grow food locally. Not to mention those methods are not NEARLY as reliant on petroleum as AP is currently. I'd be fucked if I had to replace, from a piece of pipe, to a growbeb in my AP system as it stands, without the existence of BigOil. Not so in my organic garden though...

Murray Hallam posted in another thread here about how AP (as it's being taught today) will come into importance after the collapse of big oil...and I thought "man, if that happens (big oil collapses) I'm so screwed for replacement parts"...

And realistically AP is doing, not to the same extent, and with the same mechanisms, but still WAY TOO much, of what Dr. Bartlett is talking about...What were the ships running on that harvested the contents of your fish meal? Solar energy perhaps? Your growbed...made from Oil. Your pipes made from...Oil...water pumps, air pumps, electricity...

This is OK.This is reality. And only if we talk about it honestly and openly can we ever hope to move forward and identify some of the problems and the contexts with in which they exist and why...Whether from an agricultural aspect or from an ecological one. I really respect people like Nate for their honesty and openess and willingness to share hard earned knowledge and experience, even if when (esp when) it might not be want to be what we want to hear.

I think that this needs to be looked at very critically and openly, and that is usually not going to come from people who are selling the 'stuff dreams are made of'. It may...in bits and pieces...and often only within the context how it relates to their current business motivations/aspirations. Ok nothing new there, business is business as usual...

Things only get complicated when looked at through a real life Agricultural perspective. It's easy to be a "purist" in an eco/backyard scenario (no disrespect to anyone, quite the contrary), but it's from the small scale agricultural community that I expect most of the pertinent hard to tackle nitty-gritty to come from.

'

Jonathan Kadish said:

Well, I don't think any of us here want to be involved with Agriculture, which Dr. Alan Bartlett defines this way: "Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food." I think that when we are discussing Commercial Aquaponics we are not talking about competing against petrol-chemical food. Our petroleum reserves will run out in our life time or get to the point where some food (veggies) can't be afforded by many, especially the poor. Just look at the indexes and you can see the exponential growth Dr. Bartlett warns of. Commercial Aquaponics is bringing some (not all) food production to a local level where fuel inputs are minimized and food prices can be stabilized.  We don't have all the answers yet but we can be committed to looking for them. A few of us will be brave enough to stick our necks out.


Nate Storey said:

Again Avery, I don't disagree with you.  But the difference in our opinions is that you are describing a natural ecosystem, whereas I am describing agriculture.

Averan said:

@Nate: my point is that there are 2 very different ways to supply the inputs.  1. 'artificially', by dumping in some specific chemical at the time you think it is needed. 2. 'pseudo-naturally', via slow-release or other bio-activity of a resident component in the system.  The first approach is prone to constant oversight and adjustment and prodding.  The second mimics nature more closely and tends to smooth out changes in any particular chemical/nutrient.

Just look at what happens in nature:  a system with low diversity/complexity is much more prone to failure/disaster than one with higher complexity.  The built-in complexity creates backup systems that help to buffer changes.  Its like having a basketball team with only starter players and no bench.  A single source of food/nutrient is another good example of this.  Redundancy is the name of the game.

@ Vlad: no.  but then i purposely have gravel and wood in my fish habitat that are natural equivalents.

I'm not suggesting we can ever create an artifical aquaponic ecosystem that doesn't need any external inputs, but rather that the more you integrate these inputs into your system as resident components the more stable and sustain-able it will be.

Some natural processes require a minimum scale to function though, which we can never totally replicate without reverting society back to hunter-gatherers!

imo, the future of commercial aquaponics will look very different from what we tend to imagine when we think of a farm or greenhouse.  and, imo, trying to take this amazing natural system and force it into a manmade box of preconceptions, trying to make it work the way we want when we want, is going to cause quite a bit of frustration and disappointment.  i'm merely suggesting we seriously consider breaking out of this box as we move forward imagining a healthy sustainable future.

Take my rant with a big grain of salt, it'll taste better.  :D  haha!

My main reason for loving Aquaponics has far more to do with WATER Than money or oil or other parts of sustainability.

I live in a place where soil gardening is more like run to waste hydroponics since about all our sand does is hold up the plant, it doesn't hold onto any nutrients so we provide most of it with the water.  Even in the soil that I have spent much effort building, the organic matter breaks down very very fast and vanishes if not constantly replenished with huge amounts.  And we have many soil pests and pathogens that make gardening in the soil difficult and for some crops impossible without massive amounts of toxic chemicals.

I don't want to use those chemicals that lead to ground water contamination, and I just don't want to be using them and especially not on my food.

I don't want to waste water to do hydroponics (which requires water change outs every so often) and I don't want to do regular Aquaculture which requires water change outs because both of those on their own are a waste of water.

I Do Aquaponics because it is Growing more food with every drop of water!!!!!!!!

Hi guys two quick points.
I so totally agree with Averan's outlook. Ask not what we can force out of our land but ask what our land can yield if we cooperate with nature.
One, I have not used any chemicals whatsoever in the pond cultures I worked on this past year doing fish feed experiments. No buffers, no pH adjustments, no trace minerals, nothing but organic input. In this style of operation the main crop is fish. We use plants to remove the excess N in the system so plants are the secondary crop which can be tailored to niche crops (as a bonus).
My second point is in scale. Smaller than swimming pool size operations are unstable and fluctuate too much in chemical composition as well as temperature, water level etc.
Oh another thing. Plastics do not necessarily need to come from dino oil. I think we should seriously look into re-legalizing Hemp (not the medical varieties). This is one truly amazing plant.

Not that I object to the discussion at all, believe me I'm in it for the same reasons, but this thread is not about commercial viability of aquaponics... I define "commercial" as "can I make a profit at it".

@TCL... Amen. The deal with water is one of AP's real and tangible advantages over other methods of growing food IMO.

@Carey...I think you may have touched on what may shape up to be a useful model in aquaculture/AP. This business model is about the exact polar opposite of low fish density, plant based systems.

Aquaculture (primary) using the plants (secondary) to conserve water that would normally be dumped and changed out...Something like that would seem to make good business sense within the context of an already established commercial RAS facility (RAS to AP. More so perhaps than the 'other way around' (Hydro to AP)... Again all of this from a purely commercial standpoint...

C. sativa has ridiculously wonderful potential for industry. I imagine that the day will come, but only when oil isn't a "viable" option anymore...

Claude you bring up an excellent point. It would help if we define what we mean by "commercial", as this can mean different things to different people.

I make a profit at a number of activities that I engage in, but I would not call them commercial' ventures or en-devors...yet someone else may...

claude saunders said:

Not that I object to the discussion at all, believe me I'm in it for the same reasons, but this thread is not about commercial viability of aquaponics... I define "commercial" as "can I make a profit at it".

Commercial could be as simple as, "is some one paying you for produce or fish from your system?" or are you "selling anything from the system?"

Successful commercial would be "is it earning enough to pay for itself and enough profit to pay for the overhead and enough to you to keep you from going bankrupt?"  This will take several years for any operation to really be able to answer for sure.

I don't think we should really get into scale since some one might manage a successful commercial operation that makes good money breeding/selling ornamental/research fish and some high dollar plants in a relatively small back yard or even garage/basement.  Some one else trying to sell lettuce wholesale is going to need a much larger operation to break even or make profit.  Is one any less commercial than the other?

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2019   Created by Sylvia Bernstein.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service