So you’ve been thinking about aquaponics and how you can profit from it.
Well, first you should know that today the system of food production and distribution is very competitive and controlled. It is extremely challenging to compete with big producers and marketers.
As more and more people live in urban areas they have less and less information about rural agriculture development and food production.
People do not understand modern agriculture techniques that help people consume healthier food, live healthier lives and contribute to the environment at the same time.
However, there is still a lot of space for innovative farmers to secure their place and share of the market. With availability of information and the Internet, adopting new technologies and innovative solutions is now easier than ever.
In this article we’ll focus on the question how to remain in the family environment, produce and consume healthy organic food and develop the profitable business around it.
Biggest profit makers and the availability of information
Through history, knowledge about agriculture and food production was passed from generation to generation. It was all based on trust.
Today, however, many large companies are deceiving small farmers by providing half-information or disinformation. An ordinary non-expert hard working people can hardly check and confirm these facts. This might involve information about:
- Fertilizers and soil treatment
- Farming equipment
- Crop protection etc.
Over-fertilization of soils used for agricultural and horticultural purposes is a growing environmental concern. This fact sheet is intended to address the causes and effects of over-fertilization, as well as to recommend corrective measures.
Wrong information can lead to misconceptions used for marketing purposes to attract more customers.
This has evolved so much that we now have a situation in which people put a lot of trust in big companies. They are buying products based on advertisements and marketing without real and objective information. In the end, the fact is that the biggest profit makers in agriculture today are chemical and fertilizer companies.
However, reliable information in the Internet era is available to everyone and people start to realize the real truth. Fight against corporatism is gaining traction especially with small farmers.
Because of these trends, even people living in urban areas are starting to grow their own healthy food.
Permaculture as sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystem is again starting to be the center of human interest.
The tradition is rebuilding.
Technology as the game changer in the food production
The fast life we all live and huge food production and distribution competition are making us modernize food production.
In the same time, urban living and lack of information about modern agriculture techniques are leading to many challenges when starting your own food production business.
Lack of experience an average beginner have also lead to confusion when choosing the best ways to produce healthy organic food.
Modern technology is changing food production for many reasons:
- Bad soil quality
- Lack of space
- Lack of water
- Population growth
- Environmental regulation etc.
Acquiring knowledge that is based on research and personal experience is the best defense from all the misconceptions. But today when we all live fast lives and have little time to spare for research and experimentation this is hard to achieve.
On the other hand, in developed countries we see the demand for out-of-season, high-value crops. People want fresh food during the whole year and they are ready to pay for it.
This is partially achieved with “closed” food production systems that provide us with better production capacity and supply of fresh vegetables during the whole year.
However, it involves higher production costs and this sets quite high prices on final products we buy. Additionally, sometimes we need to invest in soil sterilization that greatly affects the environment.
Aquaponics is the great solution for all these problems and challenges.
Basic research and assessments
As we all know to start and develop profitable business we need to invest a lot of time and effort. Sometimes even years before we can see any profits from it.
Aquaponic systems require some substantial investments in the start. But it is the efficient system that can provide organic products much faster than any other greenhouse project. Not to mention low production and maintenance costs and space saving that enable us to have much bigger yields and earnings per square meter.
It is well known that good plan can save you a lot of time and money. The best way to plan and organize your aquaponic production system is to invest some time in research:
- Which products are demanded on your local market
- What are the prices of products on your market
- How big is the consumption of products on your local market
- What are marketing opportunities for specific products
All these factors are important for choosing the right aquaponic system and techniques you will use. Different conditions and products will demand different aquaponic system so pay attention to the research before you invest.
If the system is set the right way and is adapted to market needs it will pay off much quicker and allow you to make profits faster.
Your first aquaponic system calculation begins with some choices and assessments:
- What kind of greenhouse will be used for production
- Startup costs assessments
- What crop growing system we will use
- Annual fixed and variable costs assessments
- How much work is required
- Possible earnings assessments
Aquaponics greenhouse production space
Depending on the local market potential we must choose the best greenhouse for aquaponic production space.
In domestic glass greenhouses, the glass used is typically 3mm ‘horticultural glass’ grade, which is good quality glass that should not contain air bubbles (which can produce scorching on leaves by acting like lenses).
For plastic greenhouses mostly used materials are polyethylene film and multiwall sheets of polycarbonate material, or PMMA acrylic glass.
There are also shade greenhouses and screen greenhouses that have special usage.
Shade greenhouses are structures which are covered in woven or otherwise constructed materials to allow sunlight, moisture and air to pass through the gaps. The covering material is used to provide a particular environmental modification, such as reduced light or protection from severe weather conditions. Shade houses are used particularly in warmer regions.
Screen greenhouses are structures which are covered in insect screening material instead of plastic or glass. They provide environmental modification and protection from severe weather conditions as well as exclusion of pests. They are often used to get some of the benefits of greenhouses in hot or tropical climates.
When choosing a type of greenhouse you will be using you need to pay special attention to local market potential. If the market is ready to accept higher prices for organic out-of-season products it is smart to invest in glass greenhouses that are more expensive. Glass greenhouse will enable you to save money on ventilation and temperature control but is much more expensive to set up then plastic greenhouses.
When we speak about aquaponic systems that are about 100 sqm large, in general, it is required to have about 30 sqm of space available for the fish tanks and filters while the rest is available for healthy and organic food production. But in general, the space required for tanks and filters will almost stay the same even for the 500 sqm crops production space. The bigger aquaponic system you have the greater potential for its profitability you can exploit.
Out of season products
Vegetables that we want to offer out of season must have very good quality.
Out-of-season products are hard to produce by traditional farming methods. To be able to grow vegetables out of season producers are using controlled conditions and chemicals. For these reasons production of out-of-season products is specific and requires more investments.
This is where aquaponics brings the most benefits. Aquaponic systems are extremely suitable and conditions in aquaponic systems are easily controlled.
Aquaponics is all natural and environment-friendly method of production. In aquaponic systems plants are grown just like in nature without any additional chemicals and what you get is 100% natural organic products.
If you choose aquaponics for your out-of-season production you will need to invest in:
- Heating of greenhouse
- Heating of water in circulation
- Additional lighting
This is quite the same as in traditional farming. But the difference and effectiveness of the aquaponic system is in the fact that is require much less space (up to 6x less) and that you do not need any additional chemicals or fertilizers.
Your aquaponic out-of-season products will be much better and more competitive than traditional farming products. You will get healthy organic products that really taste the same as the products grown in the season. This will justify all the investments you have made in your aquaponic system.
Aquaponic growing system method
Whichever growing method you chose you can grow in it any type of crops.
But the fact is that some systems are more efficient than other when you consider specific crop you want to grow. Different testing and experiments during many years have proven what is the best system for specific crops.
For example, for growing lettuce, the best is the raft system.
For growing strawberries, the best is to use the vertical growing method.
In BED growing system you can grow almost anything efficiently but to achieve the best results it is wise to combine different aquaponic growing systems.
Another great advantage of aquaponics over hydroponics is that you can combine many different crops in the same system. This is because in hydroponics you grow only one crop as you need to set specific nutrient conditions for the specific crop and it is hard to use it on other crops. At the same time, you need to constantly measure water parameters with expensive tools. This is also called “mono crop” system.
In aquaponic systems water that circulates is suitable for any crop as there are no additives and chemicals in it and the plants are taking only what they need. This is also called “poly crop” system.
Aquaponics is most productive and profitable when we choose the best growing system for specific crops.
Profitable aquaponics and startup costs assessments
The startup costs assessment is connected with local market research and assessments of market needs. Depending on the crops you have decided to grow there will be some specific aquaponic system requirements.
Another great benefit of aquaponic systems is that for example, they allow us to use PVC pipes for holding our medium and plants. These materials are cheap and easy to get. The more imagination you have when designing and building your aquaponic system, more savings you will be able to make and this will greatly influence your productivity and profitability.
When constructing aquaponic system we can save a lot of money by researching and improvising. But to be able to use your imagination and improvise you need to know the basics of aquaponics and how it all works.
The good example is automatic siphon (drainage tube) in growing bed that functions on the laws of elementary physics. It has no moving parts that would create friction and wear the material. It is based on the principle of atmospheric pressure and it works seamlessly. At the same time, it replaces expensive siphons that you can buy on you local market.
Off course, the costs of the aquaponic system directly influence your profitability and break-even point. That is why it is important to effectively improvise to be able to save money on startup investments.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a free virtual greenhouse calculator, called Virtual Grower, that will give you annual costs of heating, cooling, and lighting for specific locations. It allows for inputs such as greenhouse materials, location, type of plants grown, amount of lighting, and size of greenhouse. This can give you a pretty accurate idea of your costs going into an operation.
Aquaponic system maintenance costs
Besides the initial investment in greenhouse construction, labor and energy are usually the two greatest ongoing aquaponic system expenses. If you can find a way to decrease costs of either, or both, of these, your chances of making a profit will be strengthened.
However, aquaponic systems are much cheaper to maintain and run than traditional hydroponic systems. There are some major differences between aquaponic systems and traditional hydroponic systems that attribute to this.
Annual running costs of aquaponic systems are made of electricity costs for the water pump that circulates the water through the system, fish food and small amounts of water that we need to add to the system due to evaporation. These costs are usually fixed and depend only on the scale of the system.
Extra costs are the costs for seedlings and organic crop protection. Those, however, depend on the crop and organic protection selection.
One of the greatest benefits of aquaponics is the fact that it does not require a lot of labor. When you have established stable aquaponic system all that it is required is to track and control main water parameters, feed the fish and monitor your crops. You can control water when you notice some problems with plants but it is advisable to do it preventively for the best results.
The economy of aquaponic production
The most important factor in food production is the relation between the costs of production and the market prices.
Aquaponic systems produce high-quality organic products and greater crop yield per sqm comparing to hydroponic systems or traditional farming. But, just like in any business, it is important to do the proper market analysis before you choose what products you want to produce.
What you want to do is invest money in the production of profitable products that you can easily sell on your local market. The most profitable products are not always the best choice. It is vital to assess demand and distribution possibilities on the market. The best is to sell products on your local market where you can save money on transport and additionally contribute to the environment. The benefit of this approach for local buyers is the fact that they will always have fresh products.
If you are interested in learning more about business approaches in agriculture we highly recommend this site. Agritecture is the blog about the future of agriculture with the focus on urban farming. One of many blog contributors is Evan Bromfield who is a research assistant at the Centre For Food Safety in Washington D.C. and a vertical farming enthusiast and blogger. We highly recommend you check out his work on the topic.
If there is a demand for fresh and healthy organic food products on your local market it is smart to invest in aquaponic systems. They require a bit bigger startup investments then hydroponic systems but because of low running costs, they are much more profitable in the long run.
Another great benefit of aquaponic systems is the fact that it produces 100% healthy organic products that have higher market prices. By investing in the aquaponic system you will be able to provide healthy food for your family but also buy selling your products on the local market you can develop sustainable and profitable business.
Also, aquaponics is a suitable urban method of food production as requires much less space than traditional farming and hydroponics.
In future articles, we plan to cover some specifics about designing and building of aquaponic systems that we mentioned here so stay tuned and subscribe to our mailing list to receive all the tools and resources directly in your inbox.
If you have anything to contribute please feel free to leave a comment. We will be more than happy to reply to all your comments and questions.