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I have read extensively the many posts in this forum regarding commercial aquaponics. I am tossing an idea with several in the community about this. This area doesn't have live talapia to being with and some folks are looking into just breading them as a support leg for a broader aquaponic community. The area I live in gets on average about 290 days of sun per year, has a yearly average temp of 65 degree for a high and 34 degree for a low. The yearly snowfall is about 2 foot. There are many rivers bringing mountain snowfall for irrigation throughout the area. This area is what is responisible for apples, peaches, pears, apricots, nectarines throughout the states. The major produce besides the fruits are the wines with over 300 wineries and the hops which in the past yielded 50% of the hops used at Budwieser. With that said, growing vegetation here is now a problem. I am working with a person that owns and operates a massive organic fertilization plant and has many years with organics and growing. With our minds put together, aquaponics has come about. This leads to why I am writing this thread.
If you had a starting budgets of 100,000.00 and your own organic fertilizer plant along with a ton of land and a neighbor that owns a solar panel business, what kind of system would you attempt to go for. I am opening this discussion because I would like to see the different angles and opinions from the community. I would like details on raft, pump, design, etc on what you are willing to share and your ideas.
Thanks in advance for any and all comments on this.
1- what do you want to grow?
I strongly suggest that other than reading all that you can about Aquaponics form this forum, Backyard Aquaponics and Murray Hallam, that you purchase the Friendly Micro System Manuel ($99 I believe), read it and build a Micro System and try for yourself first and then attend the Commercial Training. We have one here on USA Mainland run by our Community Members Gina & Tonya of Green Acre Organics. Here is a the link to their website :
This should teach you all you need to know initially to be a successful Aquaponic Farmer. Now as to being a successful Aquaponic Business, well that is another matter. Not only do you need to do an in depth "local" market research re demand and supply of potential produce that you could grow, you also need to study the legal, marketing, distribution, sales as well as cash management. Once you have mastered these and apply them to your Aquaponic business, success should be at your fingertips.
Hey Jeremy, this is not meant to be a lecture or to discourage you but just my honest thoughts that every potential business owner needs to pay attention to. You seem to be off to a flying start. Good luck :-)
Jeremy Day said:
We have an interest in leafy greens. Possible markets include selling to the local farmers market each weekend with an attendance of 2,000. Selling to the LDS welfare system is another possibility. Lastly, the more then 50 Mexican restaurants in this area are owned by just a handful of people and they have been in the past 5 years swinging their buying power to local farmers when it comes to the produce they are purchasing.
What Sahib says
Hi Jeremy and much thanks Sahib and TC! We are a commercial farm and also an affiliate training center for Friendly Aquaponics of Hawaii. Sahib's suggestion to get a micro system manual first and start a small DWC system is the best way to introduce yourself to DWC on a very small scale. Essentially a commercial system is a micro system on a much larger scale. We recommend the same thing to folks that attend our commercial training. Not only do you get hands on experience on a small scale first, but then you have a system where you can later test things without compromising your commercial set up. DWC is incredibly conducive for commercial growing for several reasons. The cost to construct a commercial sized system is very reasonable, DWC is excellent for large intensive growth and also produces greens and leafy vegetables exceptionally well. It will grow other produce as well once nutrient levels are built up, but grows leafy varieties very well right from start up. The Friendly raft style we replicated and now teach is also very economically feasible to operate as it requires minimal pumping and uses gravity flow for moving most of the water. It is also organically certifiable if you use the same components and materials. With $100k start up capital, you could build quite the commercial sized system!
Hi Gina (or Tonya),
Approximately how much would you say the costs are in running your system? I was looking into adding extra aeration....between the extra costs of all the air stones recommened, larger pump, est of costs to run the larger pump (extra $30 or 40 a month on top of what I already pay for the other pump which I think is only around $7-8) were all a bit higher then I am wanting to pay for at this time. I understand that it should increase growth rate and pay off in that way, but a bit hesitant, as I'm not sure just how much faster as I had some other issues that came up that I had to work out and just now seeing better growth again.
Also, I'm wanting to figure out how it would be best for us to do this on the larger scale system that we are looking to build on the three acres we now have available close to downtown. My current three raft tanks are only 4'x38' so figuring the costs to run your larger system would be much higher. The costs were based on a high efficiency pump from Aquatic Eco System.
How often do you think it will be necessary to clean all the air stones in the rafts, would it be maybe once or twice a year?
For our larger operation we are hoping to make it as simple as possible, not only in set up materials and labor but in operation as well. After having the raft systems (hybrid system that I built from many recycled materials), some flood and drain and verticals, I'm now thinking there are some more advantages to flood and drain in that in some ways I find that especially in the areas of oxygenation (and filtration) it may be a little more simplified.
I know others have mentioned some of the cons to flood and drain on a commercial scale, i.e. terms of gravel weight/costs etc. and for those same reasons I went with building the raft tanks..but I'm not a huge fan of the rafts now.
I am experimenting with a huge pile of pine bark nuggets that I got for free..I've just put some in the vertical towers and in the raft tanks...so we'll see what happens and if that is a viable option.
The pump cost for our system which includes two air pumps and one water pump that together use 945 watts is $68 per month. However we just purchased a new blower that will provide more aeration then we currently have allowing air for the new troughs we are building and will use nearly half the wattage. Our cost once we install this new blower will be $48 per month. The benefits of growing with adequate aeration to me seem well worth the $37 a month to run the blowers as the other $11 is the water pump. It will not only significantly increase growth rate for your plants by providing aeration, it will also allow you to carry a higher fish density adequate to fuel your grow space. Really, the cost is not a lot more to run our system; not even after we add the additional 1000sqft of grow troughs. We will have 2000sqft and still have the same $48 a month electric cost as the same water and air pump will work. I understand you want to operate as efficiently as possible and with as little cost as possible, however if you don't have the system optimally running, aren't your current costs then counter productive?
For your larger system, I would really reconsider the extensive use of flood and drain or media based. Sure you have the cost of the gravel, shale, or expanded clay, but I think the major cost differential would be in labor unless you grow primarily cut and come again. However if you are growing a lot of one time harvestable crops, the additional labor to plant(now you are planting in a media that is comprable to having to dig a hole and plant in the ground) would be considerable as opposed to dropping an established net pot into a raft. Also consider that you would probably have to start a plant from seed in the media, using up valuable grow space while the seedling is developing as opposed to having it grow to seedling size in a seedling table in a net pot. Or if you try to start it elsewhere as to not use up your valuable grow out space, you will could potentially have root damage and shock from replanting. If you calculate labor costs in terms of hourly labor wages, worker's comp, taxes and SS costs you will have significantly higher labor costs. Even if you will have 'free' labor with volunteers or interns, there is still a cost associated in additional time spent planting and lost time in seedling grow out. The $37 a month blower costs is a fraction of what the higher labor costs would be. I haven't yet finished researching WC costs for farm employees, but think the labor costs for comp and taxes will probably be about $.40 on the dollar. So for every $10 you pay an employee, it costs an additional $4 per hour. Compared to the blower cost, that would be 2.67 hours of labor, however you will easily have a considerable amount more labor costs from the more intensive planting methods. As far as filtration, you either need to run a low density system which can operate with out solid settling or if running high density include the appropriate solid settling components.
I'm afraid that your disallusion with rafts is a result of just not having things quite right and not getting the optimal growth that is very possible. We are obviously huge fans of raft and did a lot of research on what the best commercial methods might be before making our decision to primarily grow with DWC. Flood and drain or medial based certainly have their merits; they just may be best suited for hobby or home use unless used as a complement to DWC. These other types of systems can absolutely be integrated into a commercial operation to optimize growth of plants not best suited to a raft system. We just purchased some Vertigro towers and will be adding those in too for plants that prefer a less wet footprint.
On the pine bark, are you trying that for a grow media? What have you found so far? I think I would put it in a bucket of water first and test the pH before adding it and then again after a few days. Pine bark is quite acidic and it may really mess with your levels. We never test new things out in the big system, only in our micro system. It is incredibly stable and has phenomenal growth, but unfortunately it is our guinea pig!
Oh and cleaning the air stones is recommended once every six months for optimal blower efficiency by reducing any resistance from clogs.
I think that answers everything you asked. When are you going to come and visit?!!! Lol. Hope all this helps.