Aquaponics Could Be The Food Of The Future

Aquaponics Could Be The Food Of The Future

viewmyarticleOctober 27, 2020

Aquaponics Could Be The Food Of The Future

There are many ways of producing food, some more efficient than others. There are aquaculture, hydroponics, vermiponics, aeroponics and terraponics, as well as the traditional agriculture and horticulture. However, there is one method that is very much worth looking into. That is a process called aquaponics. 

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Aquaponics combines fish farming (aquaculture) with soil-less plant production (hydroponics), where the fish waste becomes fertilizer for the growing plants…” The plants themselves are grown in beds, but the roots hang down into a tank or tub of water. Also, the tank of fish must be close enough to the tank of vegetables so that the waste, and therefore plant nutrients, from the fish tank can be transferred into the vegetable tank. This is done by pumping the water from one tank to the other.

The process by which the vegetables and fish are grown is quite interesting. According to greengrotech.com, a technology company that specializes in green technologies including aquaponics, “The plants extract the water and nutrients (fish waste) they need to grow, cleaning the water for the fish.” In this way, the water stays always clean and so the water never needs to be replaced.  

This system has been implemented in many places, including some close to home. Orange Grove Center actually implemented an aquaponics system six months ago as a way to help those with developmental disabilities. “Orange Grove utilizes a variety of methods to engage individuals with significant cognitive disabilities and provide training support in activities of daily living,” said Orange Grove Center Executive Director Kyle Hauth.  “The utilization of agricultural systems can provide both work related experience and therapeutic benefits to the people we serve.” 

The aquaponics system Orange Grove implemented was donated by the organization known as HATponics, a corporation based in Chattanooga dedicated to education and advancement of aquaponics throughout the world. “We have about four and one half to five years of being incorporated here in Tennessee and North Georgia,” HATponics CEO Ryan Cox said. 

There are several species of fish that are acceptable to raise in an aquaponics system. According to greengrotech.com, “Common fish species that can be grown include, but are not limited to: “perch, tilapia, catfish, Peruvian pacu, oscars, koi, goldfish and various aquarium fish, and freshwater prawns.” The most common of these species is the tilapia because of its durability, ease of reproduction and relatively short lifespan. Salmon is actually another fish that may be grown in this type of system, however they are more expensive to raise and their reproductive process is far more complex.  

There are an extensive number of fruits and vegetables that can be grown in an aquaponics system as well. According to greengrotech.com, “some common varieties of plants are most varieties of lettuce and herbs, watercress, tomatoes, cucumber, squash, zucchini, peppers, broccoli, melons and strawberries.” However, the number of vegetables on that list is not all-inclusive. Others are beets, cauliflower, peas, beans, sweet corn, radishes, carrots, onions, micro greens, and bananas.  Some of these will only grow well in a well-stocked, well-established system. 

The people of Orange Grove have begun to realize the sustainability of aquaponics as they have a small crop in progress to start with. “We are currently growing catfish, snap peas and lettuce,” Mr. Hauth said. Mr. Hauth said they plan on adding tilapia to the fish tank in the future. 

The many benefits of using an aquaponics system as opposed to a traditional farm are striking. One of the most interesting is the fact that one may grow far more amounts of food in a single acre than a traditional farm. The largest aquaponics system in the world, located in the United Arab Emirates, will produce almost 114,641 pounds of fish and vegetables within the next year. This form of food production uses only about one percent of the amount of water it takes to grow food in a traditional farm setting.  

Over the past few years, aquaponics has grown exponentially in popularity, mainly because of its practicality. According to sources from Northwestern University, “this boom is due in part to the flexibility of where one can set up operations: outdoors, in greenhouses or inside buildings.” Because aquaponics uses such little water compared to regular farming practices, it has even been said that it could be implemented in the desert.  

Tenders of the aquaponics system at the Orange Grove Center have surely gained an appreciation for aquaponics for this reason. Although they would have to keep up with the amount of food for the fish, the amount of electricity needed and the maintenance of the pumps and growbeds involved, one could very well grow enough fish meat and vegetables to feed individuals of one of the Orange Grove Center’s group homes for a length of time. 

Financially speaking it is really clear as to the profitability of large-scale commercial aquaponics systems. As of 2013, aquaponics systems in Hawaii are slightly more profitable than traditional farms. According to Kanae Tokunaga, et al. of the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, “The gross profit of the vegetable sector of a traditional farm is $3,460 per acre, while aquaculture farms had $178,858 in profits per farm compared to $86,130 in profits per aquaponics system.” That seems less, but that seems to be irrelevant since only 58 percent of aquaculture farms had that number of profits compared to 100 percent of aquaponics farms had their respective number of profits. Also, according to Tokunaga, the aquaponics systems in Hawaii had a gross profit of $43,065 per acre as opposed to the $3,460 per acre of a traditional farm. It may indeed be safe to say that the profitability of aquaponics is feasible. 

However, a smaller version of this aspect of aquaponics has been seen in one of the homes that Orange Grove operates. “One of the Orange Grove group homes have taken responsibility for the unit and will harvest the food as a supplement to the household food budget,” said Mr. Hauth.  “There are four individuals that live in the home and they are receiving assistance from their support staff as well as the occupational therapist that helps to manage the system.”  This means that the food budget for potentially more than five people would be offset by this sustainable food supply. This may very well help clear the way for Orange Grove to implement more aquaponics systems in the future or be able to aid more people in the community. 

The aquaponics system used by Orange Grove is quite small in size, but they are hoping to grow this system in time. “The system that HATponics donated to Orange Grove is relatively small,” said Mr. Hauth. “It is four foot by four foot in size. We hope to establish additional components on this system and obtain some additional four by four units that our other group homes can utilize.” 

Overall, the benefits and practicality of aquaponics are some of the most exciting proponents for the production system as a whole. The possibilities are endless with this new combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. “Our hope for aquaponics in the future is that we can teach ourselves to become more sustainable and grow our food in a greater balance,” said Mr. Cox.  “Aquaponics gives us the opportunity to use less water and grow more efficiently as well as less commercially. So by being in control of our food systems I feel that aquaponics is going to bring us a new type of education and a new type of agriculture to the world so that we may feed ourselves more effectively.”

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