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Aquaponics-Integrating Hydroponics With Aquaculture

Aquaponics-Integrating Hydroponics With Aquaculture

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IS A PROJECT OF THE
N
ATIONAL
C
ENTER FOR
A
PPROPRIATE
T
ECHNOLOGY
By Steve Diver, NCAT Agriculture SpecialistFebruary 2000
Aquaponics, also known as the integration ofhydroponics with aquaculture, is gainingincreased attention as a bio-integrated foodproduction system.Aquaponics helps production agriculture meetits goals of sustainability by following certainprinciples:
 
The
waste products
of one system
serve as foodor fuel
for a second biological system
 
The
integration
of fish and plants is a type of
 polyculture
that increases
diversity
andthereby enhances system
stability
 
Biological water filtration
removes nutrientsfrom water
before it leaves the system
 
Sale of greenhouse products
 generates income
which supports the
local economy
In aquaponics, nutrient wastes from fish tanks areused to fertilize hydroponic production beds viairrigation water. This is good for the fish becauseplant roots and associated rhizosphere bacteriaremove nutrients from the water. These nutrients
  
generated from fish manure, algae, anddecomposing fish feed
  
are contaminants thatwould otherwise build up to toxic levels in the fishtanks, but instead serve as liquid fertilizer tohydroponically grown plants. In turn, thehydroponic beds function as a biofilter so the watercan then be recirculated back into the fish tanks.The bacteria living in the gravel and in associationwith the plant roots play a critical role in nutrientcycling; without these microorganisms the wholesystem would stop functioning. Greenhouse
800-346-9140
 Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas
A
QUAPONICS
-
I
NTEGRATION OF
H
YDROPONICS WITH
A
QUACULTURE
ATTRA is the national sustainable agriculture information center funded by the USDA’s Rural Business -- Cooperative Service.
www.attra.ncat.org 
Abstract:
 
 Aquaponics is a bio-integrated system that links recirculating aquaculture with hydroponic vegetable, flower, or herb production. Recent advances by researchers and growers alike have turned aquaponics into a working model of sustainable food production. This publication provides an overview of aquaponics with brief profiles of working units aroundthe country. An extensive list of resources point the reader to print and web-based educational materials for further technicalassistance.
Contents
The North Carolina State University System ..................2The Speraneo System.....................................................3The University of Virgin Islands System..........................4The Freshwater Institute System.....................................4The Cabbage Hill Farm System......................................5The New Alchemy Institute..............................................5Miscellaneous Systems...................................................5Economic Considerations & Related ATTRA Pubs........6Suggested Reading.........................................................6Resources........................................................................7 Appendix..........................................................................12
ORTICULTURE 
YSTEMS 
UIDE 
 
 ATTRA //
 A AA A
QUAPONICSQUAPONICSQUAPONICSQUAPONICS
- I- I- I- I
NTEGRATION OFNTEGRATION OFNTEGRATION OFNTEGRATION OF
HHHH
YDROPONICS WITHYDROPONICS WITHYDROPONICS WITHYDROPONICS WITH
 A AA A
QUACULTUREQUACULTUREQUACULTUREQUACULTURE
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growers are taking note of aquaponics for severalreasons:
 
Hydroponic growers view fish-manuredirrigation water as a source of organicfertilizer that enables plants to grow well.
 
Fish farmers view hydroponics as abiofiltration method to facilitate intensiverecirculating aquaculture.
 
Greenhouse growers view aquaponics as away to introduce organic hydroponic produceinto the market place, since the only fertilityinput is fish feed and all of the nutrients passthrough a biological process.
 
Food-producing greenhouses
  
yielding twoproducts from one production unit
  
arenaturally appealing for niche marketing andgreen labeling.
 
In arid regions where water is scarce,aquaponics is an appropriate technology thatallows food production with re-used water
 
Aquaponics is a working model of sustainablefood production wherein plant and animalagriculture are integrated, and recycling ofnutrients and water filtration are linked.
 
In addition to commercial application,aquaponics has become a popular training aidon integrated bio-systems with vocationalagriculture programs and high school biologyclasses.The technology associated with aquaponics iscomplex. It requires the ability to simultaneouslymanage the production and marketing of twodifferent agricultural products. Until the 1980s,most attempts at integrated hydroponics andaquaculture had limited success. However,innovations in the 1980s and 90s havetransformed this technology into a viable modernfood production system. This publication will notattempt to summarize the production detailsassociated with aquaponics, but rather it willpoint to key innovators and published resourcesfor further information.Highlighted below are profiles of severalaquaponic greenhouses as models and examplesof commercial systems. Most of these operationscan provide technical assistance and/or offerclasses or opportunities to visit their greenhouses.Please refer to articles in the
Suggested Reading 
list and to the resource listings in the bibliographyfor more complete descriptions and technicaldetails.
The North Carolina State University System
In the 1980’s Mark McMurtry (former graduatestudent) and Doug Sanders (professor) at NorthCarolina State University developed an aqua-vegeculture system based on tilapia fish tankssunken below the greenhouse floor. Effluent fromthe fish tanks was trickle-irrigated onto sand-cultured hydroponic vegetable beds located atground level. The nutrients in the irrigation waterfed tomato and cucumber crops, and the plantsand sand beds served as a biofilter. Afterdraining from the beds, the water recirculatedback into the fish tanks. The only fertility input tothe system was fish feed (32% protein).Some findings and highlights of McMurtry'sresearch:
 
Benefits of integrating aquaculture andvegetable production are:1.
 
conservation of water resources and plantnutrients2.
 
intensive production of fish protein3.
 
reduced operating costs relative to eithersystem in isolation
 
Water consumption in integrated systemsincluding tilapia production is less than 1% ofthat required in pond culture to produceequivalent yields.
 
Such low-water-use symbiotic systems areapplicable to the needs of arid or semi-aridregions where fish and fresh vegetables are inhigh demand.
 
Organic vine-ripened, pesticide-free produceand "fresh-daily" fish can bring premiumprices, particularly during winter months inurban areas.
 
Biofilters (sand beds with vegetables) that arealternately flooded and drained with nutrient-laden fish tank water are called reciprocatingbiofilters.
 
Reciprocating biofilters provide advantages ofuniform distribution of nutrient-laden waterwithin the filtration medium during the floodcycle and improved aeration from atmosphereexchange with each dewatering which
 
 ATTRA //
 A AA A
QUAPONICSQUAPONICSQUAPONICSQUAPONICS
- I- I- I- I
NTEGRATION OFNTEGRATION OFNTEGRATION OFNTEGRATION OF
HHHH
YDROPONICS WITHYDROPONICS WITHYDROPONICS WITHYDROPONICS WITH
 A AA A
QUACULTUREQUACULTUREQUACULTUREQUACULTURE
Page
3333
benefits both nitrifying bacteria and plantroots.
 
Dissolved and suspended organic materialsaccumulate rapidly in aquaculture systemsand must be removed for efficient fishproduction.
 
Previous integrated fish-vegetable systemsremoved suspended solids from the water bysedimentation in clarifiers prior to plantapplication. Removal of the solid wastesresulted in insufficient residual nutrients forgood plant growth; acceptable fruit yields hadpreviously only been achieved withsubstantial supplementation of plantnutrients.
 
Aquaeous nitrate concentrations inrecirculating aquaculture can be adequatelyregulated when fish and vegetable productionare linked via reciprocating biofilters.
 
Tomatoes may have also assimilated N inorganic amino acid forms. In 1950 Gosh andBurris (
Utilization of nitrogenous compounds by plants. Soil Science
, 70: 187-203) found thattomatoes utilize alanine, glutamic acid,histidine, and leucine as effectively asinorganic N sources.
 
Research to determine the optimum ratio offish tank to biofilter volume ratio on fishgrowth rate and water quality found thatstocking density of fish and plants can varydepending on desired goal. Essentially, fishstocking density and feed rates are adjusted tooptimize water quality as influenced by plantgrowth rate.See the
Bibliography on Aquaponics
in the appendixfor a listing of publications and articles thatresulted from the North Carolina research.Dr. Sanders explained that aqua-vegecultureresearch at NCSU has been discontinued becausethe technology had evolved to the point where itis ready for grower application. A packet ofarticles that summarize NCSU's work on thistechnology is available on request, contact:Department of Horticultural SciencesNorth Carolina State UniversityBox 7609Raleigh, NC 27695-7609919-515-3283
The Speraneo System
Tom and Paula Speraneo — owners of a smallgreenhouse operation near West Plains, Missouri— modified the North Carolina State methodand raise tilapia in above-ground tanks inside asolar greenhouse. The effluent from the tanks isused to fertigate gravel-cultured vegetables inraised benches. In addition, the Speraneosmanipulated the watering cycle and use selectedtilapia hybrids adapted to cooler watertemperatures. They also developed a uniqueblend of microbes which they sell as aninoculant to
start
new fish tanks.The Speraneos grow fresh basil, tomatoes,cucumbers, mixed salad greens, and anassortment of vegetable, herb, and ornamentalbedding plants in their greenhouse. Tomestimates they produce 45 to 70 pounds ofproduce for every pound of tilapia. This is asignificant improvement over the North Carolinasystem, which was getting a produce-to-fish ratioof 2 to 1. Thus, the primary income in a Speraneo-style aquaponic system comes from greenhouseproduce. Fish are a secondary marketableproduct.In the early 1990's, Tom and Paula were raisingbasil which they sold for $12 a pound to gourmetrestaurants four hours away in St. Louis,Missouri. However, after passage of NAFTA,imports of basil from Mexico resulted in a marketcrash to $4 per pound, so they dropped the St.Louis market. Now the Speraneos grow adiversity of vegetable and herbs, selling locally ata farmers market combined with direct sales outof their greenhouse.Interest in the Speraneo system has resulted inover 10,000 visitors to their small farm inMissouri, including agriculture researchers andgovernment officials from dozens of foreigncountries. To handle the numerous inquiries andrequests for assistance, the Speraneos assembled aresource packet that features a design manualwith technical specifications for an S & S AquaFarm-style aquaponic system. The packet alsoincludes a 10-minute video documenting the S& SAqua Farm greenhouse, and a listing of supplies.Response from growers to a practical design

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