Aquaponics: The next big thing in agriculture

Aquaponics: The next big thing in agriculture

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“Aquaponics” sounds like something Aquaman would do for exercise. But, it has just as much potential for sustainable farms as Aquaman had for the comic book sea.

Aquaponics is an industry chocked full with potential, but it’s one in its infancy. Despite their sustainability and high value crop yield, Aquaponics farms have yet to take off commercially. But, one California-based company, Viridis Aquaponics, is taking a big-vision approach to bring aquaculture to the commercial scale.

If your first thought is, “what is aquaponics,” don’t worry, we have the answer. An aquaponic farm combines aquaculture—the farming of marine life, which usually means farmed fish—and hydroponics—the growing of plant life without soil. Both aquaculture and hydroponics have their downsides. Aquaculture requires extensive cleaning and hydroponics require extensive nutrient supplementation. But the combination—aquaponics—could be the solution to negating these problems.

While the upsides to aquaponics are evident, it has yet to hit the big scale. A quick search for aquaponic farms returns sites with how-to aquaponics tips, pictures of homemade systems and small-scale farms. In fact, one company called Back to the Roots is a company that sells very small-scale aquaponics farms called Aqua Farms, which are intended for just one fish and six small plants. But where are the big guys?

Viridis Aquaponics, a California-based startup, is one company that wants to change the trend.

Building an 8-acre greenhouse with aquaponics, partners Jon Parr and Drew Hopkins aim to build the largest aquaponics farm yet, according to a piece by Donna Jones in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

According to the piece, there have been aquaponics growers that have come before Parr and Hopkins, and they were not met with success. Here’s what the article had to say about those who’d come before:

Chris Newman started Santa Cruz Aquaponics in 2009 in a rented Corralitos greenhouse. By the end of 2011, he was out of business and his $350,000 investment gone.

“It does seem like a great idea, but I’m not convinced the vegetable world is ready for it,” Newman said.

In his case, he said, several issues brought the business down, including financing problems, conflicts with partners, and his first choice of fish — the non-native tilapia that faces regulatory hurdles.

But there also was resistance from existing agricultural interests and marketing difficulties.

“From a biosustainable point of view, I was trying to do something responsible,” Newman said. “But the market’s not paying attention. The market pays attention to price.”

Despite the failures that have come before, Parr and Hopkins are confident that Viridis Aquaponics will be the first success story of many. Hopkins said that this is the “future of agriculture. Parr, too, share the sentiment when he said, “This farm model we’re creating is going to be replicated by everyone.”

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