Aquaponic Gardening

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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.

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if you can open this it might help, with this discussion, enjoy it all!!!!

If you were pointed to a link Adam... you forgot to include it...

h-Powered Agriculture: Present Condition Of Small Scale Commercial Aquaponics

 

Author:

Adam Harwood

Lilypad Farm

FM 621, San Marcos, TX USA

lilypadfarm@yahoo.com

 

Summary:

In the central Texas region of the United States, Lilypad Farm started in November 2009 using the deep water raft culture invented by Dr. James Rackosy at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) at St. Croix. Owner-operator, Adam Harwood spawned the 2.2 acre - live where you work concept – farm adapting his 3 separate 3,000 square foot hoop houses into 23,000 gallon systems. This small scale commercial aquaponics system allows for year round production of tilapia and varieties of plants. All of this has culminated into a regional success story for sustainable agriculture.

 

While aquaponics is generating more and more interests, there are definite limits to be considered in the planting methods, the design elements, construction choices along with regional requirements. These combined determining factors make the argument for a sustainable family farm lifestyle rather than large commercial farming.

The proven growing method for this type of application of aquaponics is deep water raft culture meaning grow beds with a minimum of 12 inches of water contained in any variety of geometric shapes. The flexibility and scalability of this approach to aquaponics make it a potential answer to food security concerns globally.

Adam Harwood’s family has prepared for the worst yet hope for the best by keeping a watchful eye and by applying several decades of combined real life skill sets. Their small scale commercial aquaponics system allows for year round production of tilapia and super clean , highest quality foods, that are all natural.

Their passion is quickly becoming a work of art along with a window into the endless possibilities of Aquaponics. All of this has culminated into a regional success story for sustainable agriculture.

 

A Lifestyle Not Just Another Business

This “home office” offers higher profits from a small-scale effort with a solid wholesale/retail sales strategy supported by product liability insurance for the agricultural produce and a manufacturing license for the retail sales of fish, that are (skinless boneless) packed for retail sales.

Attaining the financial rewards in the market require entirely different skill sets than the production. Knowing your market and successfully placing products creates very little room for error, which points to a family run operation as the safest option in the current economic atmosphere.

 Working from home and having 24 hour control is a true benefit, making this a lifestyle. Larger size Farms pose multi-level management positions which has the potential to encumber the outcome of a commercial aquaponics venture.  The skills required to run a large scale operation are significant and attract big salaries which can swallow the profit margins. The smaller farms are sustainable, cleaner, less likely to fail, and are not a strain on an emerging industry. Still, the super high returns from aquaponics send off bells and whistles for producers alike making it very attractive for big players to emerge. 

We must remember that “anyone can buy a business”, but this is one industry that requires skilled and dedicated personnel to ensure growth. Those interested in aquaponics will serve themselves well by realizing this is upstream technology with great promise if we learn to apply it appropriately.

 

Superior Sustainability

There are a number of ways to grow food using hybrid hydroponics. At Lilypad Farm, the choice is to use the same approach as the UVI system with deep water raft culture. These soilless grow beds allow for much cleaner, easier to transplant foods, that remain in their net pots until time to sell, package and distribute the product. 

This means the food is still live as it goes to the end user making it a premium, superior quality food. In the vegetable and herb food market, the freshest, most nutrient-rich, foods have the best chance of high profits. In Adam’s experience, water faming commands higher prices for its producers. Simply put, aquaponics has a place in the farm-to-fork markets and someday may represent a small portion of food supplied into the mainstream.

The great news is that this commitment to superior quality food can be recreated and achieved by any decent practitioner of the art form known as aquaponics. Fundamentally, aquaponics is a year round concept and can handle high altitudes, freezes, hot weather and even drought. It is a defendable food growing system. It has all the pluses with very few minuses making it a potential emerging solution to serve a percentage of the growing demand on world food supplies. 

From a consumption standpoint, there are connections to water with very little actual usage. Also, only a few small electrical motors are used ensuring low electricity usage.

Financially, the business can be managed to can handle a profit net loss statement making it a viable and reporting form of income. Add the low startup costs and even lower replacement costs, and it’s easy to see what  makes this a whirlwind idea.

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics of aquaponic farming include both rearing of fish and plant production working towards a production critical mass for the system. This is the goal of the farm - keeping up the numbers. Each worker can only make so many plants ready per hour to install in the (growbed) system.

 Separate ergonomics are also used in the germination and management of the future crop.  Best case germination makes for superior plant selection to be transplanted. Disciplined efforts here determine the outcome during harvest.

 Fish rearing techniques are the only (ergonomic) constant from a daily management stand point.  Fish harvesting  when approaching critical mass quickly becomes a daily aspect of the process treated separately using a different ergonomic scale. Fish sales as an additional income stream can offset losses during periods of bad weather and extreme condition that might interfere with plant production.  But remember, fish are the critical factor that insures the outcome of  this style of farming. Most reports point to the plant production as the key to year end revenue numbers, but the fish are the engine! 

Unnaturally high (fish) density allows for abnormal results in the plant production offering glorious results. Firsthand knowledge and actual practice allows me authoritative license to promote Aquaponics  using the UVI methods. There are numerous global applications that may come from this  proven emerging Technology.

There are definite limits to the amount of work required to complete the ergonomic chores at hand. We do not use machines.  Nothing can replace manual labor in this field in the current practice of deep water raft farming. Art forms like this have a place in the food world.

After removing the products, the reintroduction process/cleaning process , the physical chores of maintenance, add to the ergonomics. Making for a path of understanding the practical science that makes for Small scale commercial aquaponics, to be Viable to recreate. 

 

Perspectives

Up cycling your current aquaculture farm to utilize the grow bed methods of deep water raft culture is real. This removes dangerous ammonias and certain nitrites and converts them into profits without adding a tremendous workload to an existing farm.

There are no reasons to keep you from separating the heavy solids from fish farms and either repurpose the solids or use them for a supplemental profit stream. In short, covert some space into a grow bed alongside your fish rearing tanks. The varieties of different species which can work in aquaponics is numerous. Up cycling may post profits thru Aquaponics using deep water raft culture.

Attention to detail is the pinnacle of a small scale commercial system management. Aquaculture skills are the preeminent factor in the final analysis. Aquaponics must take a side seat to aquaculture. Still, sound practices in both fish rearing and hybrid hydroponics are the key to a best case scenario. The overall goal is to have a harmony of both co-create the environment called “Aquaponics”.

Consider this a first hand, non-biased approach to small scale commercial aquaponics. It is a very rewarding business when following the recommended – live where you work concept.  Adam and Susan Harwood, farm nearly every day of the year while enjoying full and active pursuits in the “adventures of life”. 

 

Research Evidence

Although the design of aquaponic systems and the choice of hydroponic components and fish and plant combinations may seem challenging, aquaponic systems are quite simple to operate when fish are stocked at a rate that provides a good feeding rate ratio for plant production.  Aquaponic systems are easier to operate than hydroponic systems or recirculating fish production systems because they require less monitoring and usually have a wider safety margin for ensuring good water quality. Operating small aquaponic systems can be an excellent hobby. Systems can be as small as an aquarium with a tray of plants covering the top. Large commercial operations comprised of many production units and occupying several acres are certainly possible if markets can absorb the output. The educational potential of aquaponic systems is already being realized in hundreds of schools where students learn a wide range of subjects by constructing and operating aquaponic systems. Regardless of scale or purpose, the culture of fish and plants through aquaponics is a gratifying endeavor that yields useful products—food.(Rakocy, Masser & Losordo, 2006, pp.16)

 

Rakocy, J., Masser M., & Losordo, T. (2006). Recirculating aquaculture tank production systems:

                Aquaponics integrating fish and plant culture (SRAC Publication No. 454). Retrieved from

                University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture website: http://www.ca.uky.edu/wkrec/454fs.PDF

Image # 1 Nile tilapia 30 weeks old/ 480 plus grams

Image # 2 Tomatoes   8/plants on a -32 sq  foort  raft  88 days =107 lbs, output

Image # 3  Sucrine /Genova  Basil   winter production 33 days in the system

howdy just posted the article for all to read enjoy it, hope it helps and is not a bore. cheers adam it will show in ten minutes!!!

RupertofOZ said:

If you were pointed to a link Adam... you forgot to include it...



adam harwood said:

 

Although the design of aquaponic systems and the choice of hydroponic components and fish and plant combinations may seem challenging, aquaponic systems are quite simple to operate when fish are stocked at a rate that provides a good feeding rate ratio for plant production.


An essential and critical factor...

 

Aquaponic systems are easier to operate than hydroponic systems or recirculating fish production systems because they require less monitoring and usually have a wider safety margin for ensuring good water quality.

 

Here I disagree with you... hydroponics is far simpler and more easily managed than either aquaculture or aquaponics...

 

RAS operations certainly require monitoring and management.. but again good design, knowledge and appropriate stocking rates are key to succesful management...

 

But unless correct design, filtration and stocking rates are incorporated from the very start of design, and any further expansion...

 

Then I don't think that it's correct to say that aquaponics "have a wider safety margin for ensuring good water quality"...

 

IMO... many systems, especially those reliant on of solids removal... are often close to the edge of potential water quality problems... unless stocked appropriately...

 

Large commercial operations comprised of many production units and occupying several acres are certainly possible if markets can absorb the output.

 

And again, market saturation is a critical factor... and so is the time committment required to service a market level beyond a certain scale...

 

Something that I think isn't factored into many peoples initial plans, or more particularly, expansion plans..

 

Especially when the threshhold of direct retail is reached... and the business needs to switch to a paid labour, wholesale price model...

We use a system that has been in use for 29 years with great results, What are you saying? it is and will be, also use quotes where you can!!! adam said! this is a true over view, not suspect or need to be a defended subject, Show me one person that makes what we make, day by day, Where are they? using a gravel bed or a hybrid system this is a aquaponics gardening website, so We thought, positive is how we live, go for it!

Adam, I'm not critcising yourselves, or your system at all...

 

I was merely, in most parts.. reinforcing your points... other than I disagree with you regarding comparisons of ease of management  in some respects... especially in comparison to hydroponic growing....

 

And I agree... the UVI model is a proven model...

 

My reference to water quality and stocking densities... refered to "many systems"... other systems, not particularly to yours...

wow...gone for a few days and now I'm speechless...almost...haha! Gotcha!

@ Dino Thank you for such a warm welcome. I'm glad my two cents helped.

@ David W: Glad to see you back with us. Cheers. Business 101 teaches OPM...other peoples money;) Why risk your own sweat and blood? Coz it cost?...I just factor it in. I think partners are better option than banks. Dem freaks make us jump hoops and shiet. With a sample system you can get your CSA to prepay for most of it...let them use their credit.

@ Converse: I consider anything over 2000 sq-ft grow space the start of a commercial operation. Here we are using half acre or larger ponds as our fish tanks. Now to add the hydro part in this year and we'll see what comes of it;)

My definition of professional is an operation that makes at least $500 dollars an hour whenever it's doors are open.

However, if it can support a family with positive cash-flow, I guess that would no longer be hobby and can be called commercial. Just my opinion.

All good sales people are educators!

@ Peter, Thanks man.

@ Nate: I so agree with you. I think it is pointless to grow/ raise things that are out of natural boundaries/ season. The difficulty is matching what is locally needed with what you are able to produce or at least finding a market to sell to. Sometimes we need to think outside of the box. i.e. raising carp (there are Chinese restaurants everywhere) to grow algae for snails (escargot) instead of lettuce or frogs instead of fish...I dono...that is the challenge.

@ Chris T: Any time! I'm ready!

@ Adam good going!...and nice to meet you. Congrats on a fine operation (though I can seem to link to that site). I only wish I could have my own farm. I only consult others how they can make more money doing things in better ways. My hats off to all those willing to produce food sustainably. 

@ Dino: It can work! Ya just have to keep doing lots o leg work. Click.One day it will all come together and you'll find yourself becoming an eco warrior. Just keep following your nose. 

John

Did you mean that No. 1 was "Steel Underpants?"  If not, please help me understand how stealing underpants will help me start an AP business.  I have been intimidated by all the other business plans, but if the plan starts with "Steal Underpants," well... that is something that I can really get behind.

Michael

Jonathan

Did you mean that No. 1 was "Steel Underpants?"  If not, please help me understand how stealing underpants will help me start an AP business.  I have been intimidated by all the other business plans, but if the plan starts with "Steal Underpants," well... that is something that I can really get behind.

Michael

Hello,

The live where you work concept is my whole chant!!!

 Also to make the transition from owning one type of business into another is very hard in the current  money climate.

 Please be aware that there is no FDIC (FEDERAL MONEY FROM A BANK ) for aquaponics, !!! Why you say? first the term is not in the Lexicon, Aquaponics simply put IS a emerging technology that is upstream,

Second the insurance needs to meet the FDIC  requirements are not in the general pool.  Maybe soon

 We have product liability , it took me 19 months to qualify ,, this means we now have a policy that will ensure wholesale placement of the Foods in general!!! So with that said , getting cash from a bank .Just for aquaponics is not possible.

  We are certain this is true for now!!! There are for sure some PEOPLE  loop holes to this and some people have assets that far out way there needs to borrow,  The average person cannot start up a Business with commercial Aquaponics,

  We  report  a real profit and this will start the ball rolling. We here have desires to Get FDIC money in the future.

 This will be in 2013. Please understand that all we are saying is that the live where you work concept Works,

 Do not add to it . Also what WE stand on is the sheer volume  that My farm makes , it is not a competition, We practice everyday, I am the custodian and nothing more at the end of the day.

 "positive is how we live" Just get out there and farm.

Lol, sorry i meant "steal underpants"... just find and watch the episode. Its a good lesson on making empty business plans where creating the product & profit are the only goals and there is no focus on relationships, markets and marketing.

Michael Winget-Hernandez said:

Jonathan

Did you mean that No. 1 was "Steel Underpants?"  If not, please help me understand how stealing underpants will help me start an AP business.  I have been intimidated by all the other business plans, but if the plan starts with "Steal Underpants," well... that is something that I can really get behind.

Michael

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