Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

Are you interested in growing commercially?  Do you already grow commercially?  This is the place for exchanging ideas and experiences, and making new contacts in commercial aquaponic agriculture

 

You might also consider joining the Commercial Aquaponics discussion group for lots more information and discussion

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Hi, Raychel. Great that you share the good news about aquaponics. I would be interested to know where you get tanks and other AP items at such great discounts. Thanks.

Raychel A Watkins said:
I would like to do it commercially but keeping up with all the planting is a chore. I am investigating what plants would be easy to grow and have the best chance of selling. So far I have decided that ung choy, watercress, and celery are the most prolific growing plants. You can't stop them. I now have to get up enough systems. I also want to spread the word about aquaponics. I think I have talked at least 2 people into building a small system. One of the people said to me that she found a container to use as a tank on craig's list. Yea I said and it cost $200.00 doesn't it. She said yes how did I know. I look at craig's list all the time. I then told her I could get the same thing for $25.00. I really feel good about being able to show people how they can save money. You need a lot of contacts. I don't have enough but I do have a few. So I hope to be able to help her get a small system up for very little money. Maybe this is my lot in life. I do get a lot of people to come and look at the systems. Sometimes I think I am a little stupid to begin these things at my age and then I realize that if I don't do things that I enjoy and have a passion for what is life for anyway. Not that it matters but I will be 70 in Nov.
Need advise please?

I would like to know what sort of package material you use to market your produce. I am initially interested in the following produce items:-
Basil and other herbs,
Tomatoes...all sizes but concentration on Cherry based
Salads
Cucumbers
Strawberries

Please also let me know what you use for labeling (not Organic Certified ...yet), and whether you state if grown Aquaponically.

I have found this web site : http://www.montepkg.com/shop.asp?CommAbbr=MSC
Sahib, Funny thing, I was thinking of posting some of this information for everyone. My wife was the president of produce for a large food co-op here in MI. She gets occasional updates from one of the organic / non organic suppliers. I can share this info.

My wife is traveling, dropped off my oldest to college, but once she gets online or calls me this evening, I can send over pricing info for produce. Non of the produce is grown AP, some may be hydro but I am not certain if the list is that detailed.

Look for an update soon.
Two Jay, I just got back from dropping my youngest off at college. Is there a chance they are at the same place? U Dub?

Two Jay said:
Sahib, Funny thing, I was thinking of posting some of this information for everyone. My wife was the president of produce for a large food co-op here in MI. She gets occasional updates from one of the organic / non organic suppliers. I can share this info.

My wife is traveling, dropped off my oldest to college, but once she gets online or calls me this evening, I can send over pricing info for produce. Non of the produce is grown AP, some may be hydro but I am not certain if the list is that detailed.

Look for an update soon.
Although my packaging will be minimal, I would very much be interested in this info too.Thanks.

Two Jay said:
Sahib, Funny thing, I was thinking of posting some of this information for everyone. My wife was the president of produce for a large food co-op here in MI. She gets occasional updates from one of the organic / non organic suppliers. I can share this info.

My wife is traveling, dropped off my oldest to college, but once she gets online or calls me this evening, I can send over pricing info for produce. Non of the produce is grown AP, some may be hydro but I am not certain if the list is that detailed.

Look for an update soon.
I run an organic veggie/fruit buying club here in Sarasota called Passion for Produce. There's between 40-44 members now.

Michelle Silva said:
Although my packaging will be minimal, I would very much be interested in this info too.Thanks.

Two Jay said:
Sahib, Funny thing, I was thinking of posting some of this information for everyone. My wife was the president of produce for a large food co-op here in MI. She gets occasional updates from one of the organic / non organic suppliers. I can share this info.

My wife is traveling, dropped off my oldest to college, but once she gets online or calls me this evening, I can send over pricing info for produce. Non of the produce is grown AP, some may be hydro but I am not certain if the list is that detailed.

Look for an update soon.
Hello Michelle,

That sounds great. If possible, could you please share how you share how you started this club and membership details. I would love to see if I can get one started here in my area :-)

God bless,

Michelle Silva said:
I run an organic veggie/fruit buying club here in Sarasota called Passion for Produce. There's between 40-44 members now.

Michelle Silva said:
Although my packaging will be minimal, I would very much be interested in this info too.Thanks.

Two Jay said:
Sahib, Funny thing, I was thinking of posting some of this information for everyone. My wife was the president of produce for a large food co-op here in MI. She gets occasional updates from one of the organic / non organic suppliers. I can share this info.

My wife is traveling, dropped off my oldest to college, but once she gets online or calls me this evening, I can send over pricing info for produce. Non of the produce is grown AP, some may be hydro but I am not certain if the list is that detailed.

Look for an update soon.
Not to dampen your dreams and vision, nut so as to keep reality in mind...especially for me :-)

Aquaponics businesses grow, but profits prove hard to reap
Many farmers face challenges in finding markets for their products

Article by Pacific Business News (Honolulu) - by Sophie Cocke Pacific Business News original 9/24/10 modified 9/29/10

Approximatey 3,000 square feet of fine Italian basil grew on the east side of the Big Island last year with no buyer in sight.
“We couldn’t sell it — we could hardly give it away,” said Cheriess Bugado, who with her husband, Justin, began an aquaponics farm on their two-acre property in Honomu.


http://pacific.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2010/09/27/story7.ht...
Hey ! All is not lost :-)

The article does point out that "... that there have been many successes, such as Mari’s Garden in Mililani, which is poised to become the largest aquaponics farm in the country."


http://www.marisgardens.com/photo/aquaponics/





Sahib Punjabi said:
Not to dampen your dreams and vision, nut so as to keep reality in mind...especially for me :-) Aquaponics businesses grow, but profits prove hard to reap Many farmers face challenges in finding markets for their products Article by Pacific Business News (Honolulu) - by Sophie Cocke Pacific Business News original 9/24/10 modified 9/29/10

Approximatey 3,000 square feet of fine Italian basil grew on the east side of the Big Island last year with no buyer in sight.
“We couldn’t sell it — we could hardly give it away,” said Cheriess Bugado, who with her husband, Justin, began an aquaponics farm on their two-acre property in Honomu.
What great explanations there Kobus.
And I think all the successful operations I've read about have probably done much of what you mention as being the successful ways to value add and nitch market along with the research into what to grow and who to sell to ahead of time.
Well done Kobus :-)

You hit the "Nail on the head"...what say we...an A+

Yes, every one who wants to be serious at going Commercial with AQ, unless they already have an existing market and are converting part of their production or will be using their own as some restaurants or other food use operations, really need to do a detailed marketing and profitability analysis before spending all the time and $'s.

Niche marketing, especially based upon what your community needs are, is essential to Commercial success, naturally assuming all other economic factors are in place and being implemented.

See, this is why I love this forum. One gets to share such experiences and learn a whole lot more from AQ friends around the Globe...while remaining an Urban Localite :-)


Kobus Jooste said:
I think as in any business, it is vital to get some sort of idea who will be taking produce, and at what price, prior to having your system built and your crops ready to go. I'm not sure what the people went through prior to getting their venture off the ground, but this is what we have found for South African conditions:
1) Organics and sustainable production is not big. We will therefore have to make a go of it in the normal markets as well.
2) The farmer always gets smoked at fresh produce markets. The right thi to be able to achieve, is to value add and then sell on a regular basis to retail outlets. We looked at what we could get "buyers price" from retailers, vs market averages at the fresh produce markets. The difference was nearly double (selling a value added product). The effort required to reach the value adding was also not immense - cuttinglettuce into ready pillow bags, and bagging 30 g pockets of herbs into plastic punnets or pillow bags.
3) for us, the fresh fish market hardly exists. The fish barely pays for itsself,making it worth while to design a system skewed towards plant production.
4) many crops that appear to be good choices just based on aquaponic production potential (like basil - everyone wants to grow basil) are not rapid market movers. We spoke to many wholesalers and started composing a "hit list" of crops that will cause you to go under. Typically they were in over supply, or there were big players in the market ready to flood it at the least sight of a newby. In our case, tomatoes was an example of such a crop. Outof our conversations with these buyers and sellers,we also started getting an idea of produce that may be a good niche option.

Out of all this work, we came up with a strategy favouring South African conditions: Go larger than Family, get funding agencies on board, create jobs by doing it all - seedlings to punnets. We costed and ran financials on a system of greenhouses with a single processing plant, and the outcomes of such a venture (on paper) became quite impressive for the value adding side, while the farming side just scraped by. Over here, the research seem to point to small niche market selling, or large, multi product value adding operations as feasible, but in between, you are looking for trouble. Not sure if any of this is applicable to America.
Goodmorning, everyone. After reading the recent posts here I though some might find it useful to describe what I learned when I was researching starting a commercial business a year and a half ago. I'm going to try not to replicate what Kobus just said because in many ways we experienced the same thing.

1) know your market! - Organics, sustainability and "local" are very big here, but along with that comes an emotional attachment to the dirt that would have to be addressed through marketing. People here often automatically think "oh, that is hydroponics, which is very unnatural and is connected to pot-growing. yuck." It is an important thing to be aware of.

2) The further away from the end consumer you get, the more convenient it is, but the more people are taking a slice of your profits. We discovered the same scale issues as Kobus. If you went small enough you could market local organic produce directly to the end consumer through farm stands, farmers markets and CSA's. If you want to go through distribution channels, however, you need to be very sizeable.

3) Talk to lots of people in the industry, especially potential buyers - This was incredibly useful. I talked to several restaurants, and learned that they could be a very viable market for picked-that-day and delivered produce, especially salad greens. Chefs were also very keen to be able to specify what they wanted grown and there could be a great market for custom salad blends and unusual herbs. I talked with grocery stores in town and found that one family owned store would buy everything I grew (price would be an issue, though) and the other (Whole Foods) loved working with local producers (it is a big push for them), loved the idea of touting aquaponics (we even discussed having a web-cam link to the greenhouse so customers could see the activity there, again MARKETING is critical) and they did not have a local supplier of watercress so were very interested in that.

4) Consider focusing on off season produce - We have a very active farmers market (biggest in Colorado and considered one of the top 10 in the country) but given our climate everything is very seasonal, and fresh produce goes away for about 1/2 the year. There is a big market for off season produce. Lettuce in the middle of the summer. Everything from Oct - April. If you can figure out how to keep heating costs down this could be the entire focus of a business plan right here.

5) Consider CSAs - This is basically an extension of everything above but after all was said and done we decided that the best way to approach our market was through a year-round CSA (community supported agriculture) model where we would sell shares of our production to "members". The members would be invited to participate in the decision making about what we would grow, and would get a % allocation of what came out of the greenhouse each week (including fish) - and if there was a catastrophe they would share in that by not getting anything. The shares would be in 3 month blocks, and the members could pick their own from a list we provided at the door if they wanted to (we thought families with kids would love this), or we could pick for them and a box would be ready for pickup on certain days. Any "excess" produce could be sold at the greenhouse, sold to restaurants, donated to the food bank, or fed to the fish.

6) Consider the flexibility of your system - Given the CSA model we were leaning towards, being able to grow a wide variety of crops was extremely important to us. I was designing our greenhouse with a combination of media beds and stacking towers (now I would use ZipGrow vertical towers ;-). I moved away from the idea of raft systems because if that is the system you lock into you are limited in what you can grow, plus they are more expensive to install and take more time to maintain. I believe it is important to be nimble and be able to react to your market no matter which model you start with.

7) Fish are not a profit center, and you may not be able to "process" them - Here in Colorado we have a federal prison that is producing most all of the "local" tilapia. Pretty tough to compete with prison labor. There was an interest in perch and barramundi, but those are more difficult (maybe not the perch) and grow slower. But the bigger problem is that in order to fillet a fish in Colorado, and I believe most of the rest of the country, you need to pass through some serious regulatory hoops and have a specially designed facility. You can, however sell them live, or "mostly live", meaning whole and on ice. This meant that you could sell to Asian markets and/or directly to consumers and restaurants. Again, restaurants were the most excited but only if they could have the fish they wanted - tilapia wasn't all that exciting to them. Again, figure out what works in your market and what regulations you are going to have to face. The bottom line with fish is that we were hoping to break even on the cost of feeding them and heating their water and then they would become a free source of plant food...plus add a very potent point of differentiation to our produce operation!

8) Know thyself - I ultimately decided not to pursue a commercial aquaponics operation because I finally came to the personal realization that I"m not a farmer by nature. I don't do well with routine and solitude. I was intimidated by the notion that I had to be on call 24 hours a day until we got big enough to hire employees..and even then you are still on call 24 hours a day, really. I"m not good with bugs. Given my background I'm vastly more comfortable with backyard systems and helping people successfully start aquaponics in their homes. I love to teach, write, and promote - none of which have much to do with being an aquaponics farmer, really. But that is just me. We should all hope that there are lots of people out there, and in here, who have the fortitude to do this commercially!

Hope this helps someone...

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