Aquaponics could lead to sustainable farming

An image of an American farm usually portrays a red barn with rows of identical-looking crops stretching for miles across a flat landscape. While farms in America are more diverse than this description, monocropping is almost homogeneous farming. 

Monocropping decreases soil productivity because of a lack of produce diversity and nutrients.

Luckily, there has been a rise in farming systems that promote more diversity and sustainability. Aquaponic agriculture is one such system.

Aquaponics could be one future solution for a more sustainable food system. As the global population is predicted to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, there have been estimates of a 60% increase in the demand for food. 

Aquaponic systems grow produce hydroponically in fresh water. Waste produced by fish or other farmed aquatic animals provides nutrients for the produce, which in turn purifies the water and gets recycled back to the nutrients suppliers. 

Aquaponics has many benefits when it comes to the sustainability of a community and the environment. According to the Aquaponics Guide, irrigation systems all over the world use up 42% of the world’s fresh water. This has led to water scarcity in many countries across the globe. 

Aquaponic systems have been found to use 90% less water than standard agricultural practices because the water is continuously recycled. Aquaponics can also produce food year-round through the use of greenhouses and other indoor systems. 

Produce grown in aquaponic systems require no soil, meaning fewer invasive weeds can grow. The produce can also absorb 100% of the nutrients provided by the fish with no soil to disrupt the absorption. 

The aquaponics equipment company Go Green Aquaponics says that this type of agriculture does not require nutrient-rich land, as it can successfully produce food on cement, in buildings, and anywhere with available space and electricity. This is an especially important benefit due to the projected increase in the global population.

While there are many benefits of aquaponics, there have been concerns surrounding the use of this type of farming for a large population.

In an article about the pros and cons of aquaponics, sustainability writer Jane Marsh explained that not all types of produce can be grown using this system. 

Crops that do grow well hydroponically include leafy greens such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and other veggies with a high intake of water. Because aquaponic systems use fresh water, though, saltwater aquatic animals cannot be used. 

An article about the startup costs of aquaponics from explained how access to money also comes into play, as aquaponic systems can be expensive. An average system for a small household can start at $1,400. This is not taking into account the labor, maintenance, electricity and housing needed. 

Whether the pros outweigh the cons, aquaponics may be the future for a more sustainable society. 

Today, various companies, groups and farmers are using this innovative system to grow produce for communities.

One company that is using aquaponics is Ouroboros Farms in Half Moon Bay, California. As one of the largest commercial aquaponics farms in the U.S., they offer classes, give tours of their farm, sell supplies and produce and host farm-to-table dinners and other events at their event center. They also have numerous restaurant partners that use Ouroboros Farms produce.

Another farm that uses aquaponics is Upwards Farms in Brooklyn, New York. This farm uses a combination of vertical farming and aquaponics to produce a variety of microgreens and raise hybrid striped bass that they sell to whole foods stores in New York City, New York. 

Other aquaponic farms have expressed this same passion for creating a more environmentally friendly agricultural system. The interest and excitement for aquaponics has been growing. 

According to an article on aquaponics from Bold Business, the global aquaponics market was valued at more than $520 million in 2017 and was expected to grow to $870 million by this year.

“Commercial-scale food growers and urban backyard farmers contribute to the growth,” Imelda Rabang, the article’s author, said. “If this trend continues, access to locally-grown fish and salad greens raised using economical and sustainable farming methods will increase.”

Only time will tell whether this interest blooms into a new and sustainable way to produce food for communities. One thing that is certain, though, is that people are looking for more sustainable ways to provide nutrients to the global population, and the world needs these solutions now more than ever before.

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