Aquaponics could be identified as organic due to some good reasons, such as it gives us chemical-free food products because the system mimics what happens in a natural ecosystem. Aside from this, any aquaponic method encourages a symbiotic relationship between plants and aquatic animals, allowing small backyard growers and commercial producers to generate nutritious crops and raise savory fish.
What is organic food?
The traditional definition of "organic food" is a crop that has grown on soil without the use of prohibited substances such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. But due to the emergence of soilless methods of plant cultivation, "organic food" has changed. The term can now be applied to container culture-based growing media wherein in compost or bioponic growth media or container system, all soil-dwelling organisms in the soil food chain can thrive. This definition is based on the US Department of Agriculture regarding organic aquaponics.
How does aquaponics work?
Aquaponics is the result of combining hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture (raising fish or other aquatic animals) to produce plant and fish crops quickly and efficiently. Bacteria break down fish waste from the aquaculture side of the system into dissolved nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds) that plants use to thrive in a hydroponic unit. This nutrient removal improves fish water quality and reduces total water usage by minimizing the amount of effluent emitted.
Many of the advantages of hydroponics over traditional crop production methods apply to aquaponics as well, including the following:
- lowered land area requirements;
- reduced water usage;
- boosted plant growth rates; and
- year-round harvest of crops in a controlled environment.
Aquaponics can produce high-value herbs, vegetables, leafy greens, fish, crayfish, worms, and various other items to fulfill a diverse market. Because aquaponic systems are typically closed-loop (i.e., waste-free), nutrient effluence is virtually non-existent, allowing agriculture to take a significant step toward environmental sustainability. Furthermore, fish, plants, and waste materials can all be used, gathered, and transformed into fertilizer products for resale. These compelling advantages make aquaponic systems feasible for gardeners and producers with limited space, increasing access to more people's locally produced, healthful food.
Can aquaponics be classified as organic?
According to the United States' National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), whose responsibilities include identifying which products or growing methods are classified as organic, aquaponics may be identified as organic.
According to the website of the United States Department of Agriculture, the following are the requirements for a farm produce to be labeled organic: "Organic products must be produced using agricultural production practices that foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity."
Interestingly, this criteria can be applied to aquaponics, which means the latter is an organic means of producing organic food.
Foster Resource Cycling
This aspect is achieved in the aquaponics setup because the water is recirculated across the two systems. Nutrients in aquaponics come primarily from the fish feed and water inputs into the system. The fish consume a large portion of the feed, either used for development and metabolism or expelled as soluble and solid feces, with the remainder decaying in the tanks. While liquid excretions are immediately available to plants, microbes must mineralize solid wastes before absorbing their nutrient content. Once the plants absorb the nutrients from the water, this is filtered and goes back to the fish tanks.
Promote Ecological Balance
One rule of thumb in having a healthy and profitable aquaponics setup is maintaining a dynamic equilibrium among the fish, plants, and bacteria. To achieve this, growers exert incredible effort to balance the pH level of the water in their aquaponics system. Below are the simple steps to be done to improve the pH level of water:
- Equal parts calcium carbonate and potassium carbonate are mixed and added to the water. Carbonates are preferred because they give the carbonate buffer more strength.
- A water change is another option that will help replace the acidic water with more tepid water. Changing the water will protect your fish and bacteria from immediate harm.
- Adding sodium hydroxide to the water is another practical step to improve its pH.
- Using a slightly alkaline grow medium, such as crushed limestone, can also aid in raising the pH of the aquaponics system.
Maintain and Improve Soil and Water Quality
Many are confused about how aquaponics can be considered organic since it is classified as a soilless system. But according to the 2010 NOSB Recommendations, compost or biodegradable plant wastes should be regarded as the soil in container culture-based growing media (usually used in greenhouse systems). )
In aquaponics, the definition mentioned above of soil applies because "all soil-dwelling organisms in the soil food web thrive in a compost or bioponic growing media or container." (Ibid) In fact, growers even introduce earthworms and redworms in their media beds because they promote well-being for the plants.
Red worms are the best worms for aquaponics. These worms perform an outstanding job, breaking down sediments that build at the bottom of the grow bed. Red worms enjoy eating decaying or dead plant materials, extra fish food, and other solid wastes on the grow bed, providing excellent fertilizer for your plants in the process.
Now, that we have established that in aquaponics, the term "soil" may have another meaning, provided by the NOSB, we will look at how it maintains and improves soil and water quality. Here is a simple step-by-step procedure of maintaining an aquaponics system that benefits the grow bed and water:
- Inspection of thick solids along the media beds and deep water culture
- Cleaning of pump and pipes
- Boosting of beneficial bacteria
- Maximization of aeration
- Humidity and temperature management
Minimize the Use of Synthetic Material
One of the advantages of an aquaponics system is that synthetic fertilizers are not required. Fish are used in the system as a source of nutrients for the plants. When fish waste is allowed to accumulate in water tanks, it creates an unhealthy aquatic environment. On the other hand, aquaponics makes use of this waste by enabling plants to filter out contaminants. As plants take nutrients from the water, the water becomes cleansed, clean, and safe to return to the fish tank.
In aquaponics, symbiosis is a crucial idea because it is the fundamental principle that governs how the system works and generates the intended results. The symbiosis in aquaponics is mainly between the microbiota, plants, and fish. In an aquaponics system, the microflora serves as the foundation or building block for the symbiotic relationship between all other organisms. Symbiosis in the system can function properly once the colonies are well established.
What is an organic certification for aquaponics?
A farm or processing facility can sell, label, and represent their products as organic if they have received organic certification. The organic label gives customers more options in the marketplace. The organic seal is protected by the USDA, which provides consumers with more choices.
Organic vegetables are also becoming increasingly popular. Some consumers are willing to pay a higher price for crops that are labeled "certified organic." This fact is because people are expected to switch to organic in the future since organic crops are healthful, chemical-free, and can be sold at a reasonable price.
By careful examination of the USDA's criteria to define organic food, aquaponics is qualified to be labeled as organic. Although this could be an ongoing debate among traditional farmers and aquaponic practitioners, according to a 2014 Consumer Report, the phrase "organic" is defined as chemical-free, healthful and nutritious, and environmentally friendly, all of which are characteristics of the aquaponics system.