An aquaponics practitioner can earn revenues from his/her aquaponics garden because the produce can be sold to a broad consumers group. Making your aquaponics profitable will require you to prepare an effective business plan. This document will serve guide in identifying the salient elements comprising an aquaponics system that reward you with an extra source of income.
How does aquaponics work?
Aquaponics describes the hybrid of aquaculture (the cultivation of fish and other aquatic creatures) and hydroponics (the cultivation of plants without soil). This food production system combines the two in a symbiotic relationship in which plants are fed the discharge or waste of aquatic animals. In exchange, the plants help clean the water as it recirculates to the fish tank.
In addition to fish and their excrement, microbes play a significant part in plant nutrition. These beneficial bacteria colonize the gaps between the plant's roots and convert fish waste and sediments into nutrients that the plants may use to thrive. The result is a seamless integration of aquaculture and gardening. See this informative post for an in-depth discussion of aquaponics operation (Link to article).
What is commercial aquaponics?
Commercial aquaponics is a relatively new agricultural business, capitalizing on the concept of aquaponics. Due to the sustainability benefits of these systems, there has been a renewed interest in them in recent years. Moreover, a significant number of "ecopreneurs" have turned their attention to building aquaponic farming businesses for profit.
Commercial aquaponics system farms are only found in controlled conditions like greenhouses or outdoor sites with ideal weather. In recent years, Mexico, Canada, the United States, Australia, and a few other nations have emerged as pioneers in the commercial aquaponic farming specialty. However, the total number of businesses is still reasonably low.
How to set up a commercial aquaponics system?
1. Research about commercial aquaponics feasibility in your area.
Conduct commercial aquaponic farming research. Gather as much information as possible about starting and running an aquaponic farm. Visit aquaponic growers in your neighborhood or state to get tips on how to run a commercial aquaponic farm. To learn more about aquaponic farming, conduct an internet search. Before starting an aquaponic farm, contact your state's department of agriculture and fishing to learn about any registration requirements.
2. Develop a business plan for your commercial aquaponics system.
A good business plan will walk you through each step of beginning and running a company. Your business plan will function as a clear road map for how to establish, run, and grow your new company. It's a method of considering the most critical aspects of your company.
- Overview of your commercial aquaponics
- Goals and objectives
- Market analysis
- Competitors' analysis
3. Identify the fish and plants you will produce.
Aquaponics is capable of rearing a wide variety of fish and vegetables. However, this does not necessarily mean you can impulsively grow anything without considering some valuable factors.
- Location: Your location will determine the type of plant and fish that can thrive in your chosen aquaponics system. If your region has a cold climate, you should use plants and fish that can tolerate dropping temperatures. Although it is still possible to cultivate fish and plants from warm regions, you need to build a greenhouse and control the internal environment.
- Fish tank size: The size of your fish tank will decide the type and number of fish that are appropriate for your system. Make sure you know the mature size of the fish you're going to raise, as well as the tank size you'll require. Some fish need a certain amount of space to survive, so be aware of the fish's maximum adult size before you start raising them. A channel catfish, for example, can grow to be 40-50 pounds, necessitating a spacious fish tank of at least 250 gallons.
- Aquaponics method: There are three recognized methods for aquaponics. These are the grow media aquaponics, nutrient film technique (NFT), and deep water culture (DWC). Here is a short list of plants that you can grow in each method: Deep Water Culture - Kale, cabbage, lettuce, basil, mint, watercress, bok choy, and swiss chard; Nutrient Film Technique - Parsley, dill, strawberry, and arugula; Media bed aquaponics - Okra, cucumber, broccoli, peas, banana, carrots, radish, rosemary, chili, beans, and eggplant.
4. Build the components of your commercial aquaponics system.
The components being referred to here involve those you need to manage your fish and plants.
The fish dwell in the culture tank as they grow to the desired market size. Phase 1–Hatchery, Phase 2–Nursery, and Phase 3–Growout are the three primary stages of fish development in aquaculture. Tank shapes differ in aquaponics, and each has its strengths and weaknesses:
Pros: This shape aids in waste removal and promotes swimming among your fish.
Cons: The shape is considered space inefficient, and there is difficulty in grading the fish as well as harvesting them.
Pros: This shape is space-efficient, and the fish are easy to grade as they mature.
Cons: Certain fish have difficulty adapting to the tank corners. The flat surfaces may cause injury to your fish.
Pros: This shape is a compromise between the first two. Compared to spherical tanks, this is more space-efficient. It also promotes swimming. The fish are easier to grade and harvest in this kind of tank shape.
Cons: The solid wastes are moderately difficult to remove.
In choosing the construction material for the fish tanks, know that stainless steel is the most expensive since it is durable, easy-to-clean, and has food-safe quality. However, you can also have a fish tank made from plastic or HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), which has a moderate cost.
Aeration creates movement in the water to increase the amount of dissolved oxygen. The aeration process agitates the water, creating a broad surface area for air and water contact. This is critical for your fish and plants' survival. Pumps are used to move water between the various components of the system. Several methods for transporting water and many engineering concerns should be integrated into system design to improve efficiency.
Here are the three standard pumps used in aquaponics:
Submersible impeller - This pump has an average cost and does not require you to cut holes in your fish tanks. The downside of such a pump is it has a low life expectancy, and there is a risk of water contamination if the pump seals fail.
Inline impeller: This pump is excellent in moving water across your system. It even has longer operational usage. If you use this pump, it will require more plumbing work. Compared with a submersible impeller, this type of pump is more expensive.
5. Formulate an operations strategy.
This aspect of commercial aquaponics touches the management of the relationship between the volume of the fish and plant crops. This entails understanding the approach that suits raising the fish and producing the crops, along with the schedule for planting and harvesting the plant crops and the stocking and harvesting of fish.
Consider answering the following questions in formulating your aquaponics operations strategy:
- What type of aquaponics system will you use for the plants?
- What is your primary product?
- Will you raise the fish to be marketed as a food product, or its sole purpose is to support the aquaponics system?
- Do you plan to earn a certification as an organic producer?
- Will your plants start as seeds from your farm, or will you buy seedlings from another supplier?
- Will you be harvesting all year round?
6. Construct a financial strategy.
This is a crucial factor in determining the profitability of your aquaponics project. For the financial strategy, you should familiarize yourself with the following elements:
- Expenses: This element includes marketing, human resource, and operating expenses. Expenses should also include administrative costs associated with the farm's administration and management and one-time or initial start-up costs such as initial operating expenses, site preparation, environmental investigations, and remedial actions that are not treated or included as part of fixed asset costs.
- Income: It is advisable for you to develop a three-year or five-year income plan for your aquaponics farm. The income should include receipts from the farm's product sales and other products, less any loss due to spoilage or product that cannot be sold. It should also have income from grants, donations, rent, or other sources that are expected to cover operating expenses annually.
- Profit and loss: The difference between the estimated annual expense and the estimated yearly income is the annual profit or loss. The profit and loss statement assists the entrepreneur in evaluating the performance of his business and serves as a foundation for future performance.
- Fixed assets: Land and buildings, automobiles, furniture, office equipment, computers, fixtures and fittings, and plant and machinery are examples of fixed assets. For tax purposes, these are items that are generally depreciated over time. Any company's fixed assets are critical. For one, they are scrutinized by investors when considering whether or not to invest in your project.
How can I improve the profitability of my aquaponics operation?
To improve the revenue of your commercial aquaponics, you can always opt to grow costlier crops in your region to counterbalance your energy and resources expenses. This may take research on your part to determine which plants have high market demand.
It is also safe to include in your aquaponics garden specialty crops such as bell peppers, chili peppers, basil, tomatoes, garlic, lettuce, etc.
Another effective way of increasing the profitability of your aquaponics business is by using proven marketing strategies. Here are a few steps you might want to consider:
- Flyers and posters
- Advertising in local newspapers
- Social media marketing
- Placement of signages or tarpaulins about your farm
- Giving promos to establish a customer base
In employing the above marketing approaches, be sure that you highlight your product's selling points, such as the sustainability of aquaponics and the nutrition level of your crops.
Considering the current prices for the products to be sold is also an excellent approach to have increased profitability. Here are some questions you can ponder:
- What are the current market prices for similar products in your target market?
- What is the sensitivity of demand to price?
- Will your prospective customers be willing to pay higher fees for your produce?
- Do you have proof that your target market segment will accept your introductory price?
What are the challenges for commercial aquaponics?
Success in any business endeavor does not come easy, and aquaponics is not exempt. There are some challenges that you need to overcome to achieve high profitability. Check out the short list I prepared for you about these challenges:
- pH stability: The pH level is critical in aquaponics systems because this determines the health of all living organisms in a cycling system, including fish, plants, and bacteria. Each residing component in your aquaponics setup has a different optimal pH. Moreover, to improve nutrient uptake, plants require a desirable pH range.
- Balancing of nutrients: In an aquaponics setup, the fish's wastes are the primary source of nutrients for your plants. But there are still other nutrients that you need to supply to ensure a profitable yield. You can add nutrients by spraying the plants with a particular water solution.
- Pest and disease management: Pests can lay waste to your produce, which adversely affects your future profit. This fact necessitates that you develop solid and effective pest and disease management. This article (Link to article) about pest control could help you with this aspect.
- Functionality of the system: Your primary concern here would be the recirculation of the water across your setup. This implies that you should conduct a maintenance check of your tubing and pumping systems. Ensure that there are no leaks and clogged conduits because such a situation leads to performance issues.
Commercial aquaponics is a young but growing industry. Your success in this field depends on many interrelated factors. This article may act as your guide on how you should handle these factors leading to profitable aquaponics.