What are the benefits of aquaponics as a sustainable food source? Aquaponics has many advantages that make it more efficient and sustainable than traditional agriculture. Benefits of aquaponics is it uses about 90% less water than soil farming and can produce 8 to 10 times more food in an equivalent area.
It Conserves Precious Resources
A significant benefit of aquaponics is that there are minimal resources used, and even fewer wasted.
While it may seem like there’s a lot of water being used.
Aquaponics actually uses only about 10% of the water that soil-based agriculture does.
The water that is used is often recycled, which significantly reduces the need for additional water.
Many aquaponic farms are actually so efficient that they use anywhere from 95 to 99% less water than other farming methods.
Due to the nature of aquaponic systems there’s very little need for significant amounts of land.
Large scale aquaponics operations are often housed in tall buildings or repurposed structures.
This allows for more vertical growing space, rather than relying on ground space to grow.
So, not only do they take up considerably less space, aquaponic systems can make use of otherwise abandoned urban buildings.
Aquaponic systems efficiently produce up to 8 times as much food as a field of crops for the same amount of space.
That means that aquaponics allows us to preserve land while producing ampules of sustainable food source for the surrounding population.
Aquaponics systems do need energy support to provide ample light, climate regulation, and power pumps throughout the system.
However, they don’t actually require much power in comparison to your typical greenhouse.
Aquaponic systems require significantly less energy than farming equipment and processing.
It’s also important to note that aquaponics doesn’t rely on depleting fossil fuels, and therefore helps to reduce the carbon footprint of our food.
As a comparison:
Human labor can be reduced by about 40% on an aquaponic farm, while there’s even less energy used to run the farm.
An aquaponic farm uses significantly less energy than traditional agriculture using mechanical processes.
In fact, the aquaponic farm employs about 75% less energy overall.
Aquaponics is Climate and Pest Resistant
For a food source to be considered truly sustainable, it must be able to produce on a consistent, reliable basis.
That’s where aquaponics excels.
Aquaponic systems are housed indoors, using CEA technology.
CEA, or Controlled Environment Agriculture, allows farmers to create stable conditions optimal for the food they’re growing.
What does that mean?
It means crop yields are larger, more frequent (at least four times more), and since crops are grown in optimal conditions.
While they contain the maximum amount of vitamins and nutrients.
Here’s another vital thing to think about:
Aquaponics delivers harvests without relying on the seasonal changes as conventional agriculture does.
This means aquaponics can produce sustainable food source year round, without ‘offseason.’
The other benefit to this is that aquaponic systems aren’t vulnerable to natural, external issues like outdoor farming is.
A dry season or even extreme drought won’t mean the loss of crop yield.
In fact, it won’t affect the food grown in an aquaponic system at all.
Another issue with field farming is the endeavor to mitigate pest issues.
Pests can take out a significant portion of a crop, so pesticides are often used to try and avoid this.
Food grown in aquaponics doesn’t ever touch pesticides, because there’s no need.
As sterile, indoor facilities, aquaponic farms have minimal risk of pest infiltration.
Essentially, aquaponic systems are pest resistant by the very nature of their design, your harvest will never get lost due to an infestation.
Ultimately this comes down to a significant win in the battle for sustainable food source security.
By ensuring that there aren’t unexpected food shortages, ample sustenance can be provided to a growing populace, regardless of other natural circumstances that would otherwise destroy a harvest of crops.
Aquaponics Produces Multiple Food Sources Simultaneously
Growing in aquaponic farms allows for a surprising amount of diversity in what can be produced.
Naturally, since aquaponics uses a symbiotic ecosystem to support both fish and plants, these systems provide at least two kinds of food (plant and animal based) by default.
However, when you consider the incredible capacity for biodiversity within a single system, the benefits of aquaponics as a food source get more pronounced.
A wide variety of different fish species can be grown in an aquaponic farm, as long as the species are compatible, freshwater fish.
As you’d assume, basically any aquaponic farm is going to be growing fish as a sustainable food source unless it’s a home or hobby system(typically, Koi or Goldfish). In fact, a rising trend has much of the world’s Tilapia supply produced in aquaponic farms and aquaculture systems, rather than the more conventional method of ‘penned in’ fish farming.
In traditional field farming, vast fields are saturated with a single type of crop. Hence, making it difficult for a farm to produce an ample variety of plants in a significant quantity. The average farm produces about three different types of crops at the most, at any given time.
Aquaponics steals the show in this category because with enough space; you have near unlimited options in how many different kinds of crops you want to grow. Different plants can be grown, literally, side by side (as long as they have compatible environment needs). That means an aquaponic farm can produce squash right next to strawberries, right next to lettuce, all while growing a variety of fish in the water reservoir below.
There Are Virtually No Additives
A massive problem with modern food production is that it allows chemicals and pesticides to be added.
Which often end up in groundwater and streams nearby avoiding this is one of the benefits to aquaponics.
These chemicals can harm humans, and destroy surrounding ecosystems; as a result, the push for organic, chemical-free food is stronger than ever. However, with outdoor farming (whether organic or no) there’s the risk of contamination as well as the use of other additives.
Aquaponics takes the push for clean food even farther since there’s very little that’s ever added to the system. Because fish are sensitive to chemicals and water conditions, it simply wouldn’t be possible to use dangerous additives and have a thriving aquaponic system. Added nutrients and fertilizers are a rare occurrence in aquaponics, too. Plants get ample nutrients naturally from fish waste, while the plants help keep the water balanced and clean for the fish.
In small to medium sized systems, there may not even be a need to add in fish food. However, in large systems, aquaponic farmers often need to add some amount of fish food daily to supplement sustenance for the fish. When organic, additive-free fish food is used, the entire process remains completely organic.
Essentially, this whole beneficial cycle means that there’s almost nothing that needs to be put into an aquaponics system to help it thrive (and in fact, adding anything can be a big problem).
It’s an Environmentally Responsible Food Source
One of the biggest things to consider about sustainable food sources is how they impact the environment. With that said, some of the most environmentally conscious aspects of aquaponics are more about what it doesn’t do.
For instance, it doesn’t take up a large amount of arable land. That’s important because the quality and quantity of topsoil are in trouble worldwide. Issues like this can lead to sweeping environmental disasters that directly impact the land that farmers depend on to produce crops.
Large amounts of forested land are cleared every year to make room for farming, whether that’s for livestock or crops. Conventional agriculture contributes to 80% of tropical deforestation, and 91% of rainforest deforestation. Statistics show that some 80,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed daily, most of which is driven by the need to create more arable land for farming. In the process, entire species are forced to, or very near to, extinction. This delivers a significant blow to entire ecosystems worldwide, throwing off the natural balance. Every year, we lose about 50,000 species as a result.
Implementing aquaponic systems locally reduces the need to clear pristine lands, which allows us to reduce our overall environmental impact.
Aquaponics is a Virtually Waste Free Solution
A lot of waste comes from the table, but agriculture itself tends to produce much waste. Livestock farming is an exceptionally large perpetrator, and it’s even more so if the animal waste isn’t recycled into fertilizer.
Aquaponics makes for an ideal sustainable food source in large part because it produces virtually no waste. All solids in the water reservoir (such as fish waste, extra nutrients, etc.) can be reused as fertilizer for the plants in the system if any isn’t initially used by the plants.
Water very rarely needs to be entirely disposed of; in fact, that would occur only when there was a severe enough issue with water quality that large amounts would need to be replaced entirely. Since water is either used in transpiration by plants, evaporated, used by fish, or recirculated, any water loss isn’t because of waste.
There’s very little detritus resulting from the plants. Very rarely are significant amounts of crops wasted due to poor health, disease, or pest problems. The infrequent produce that can’t be sold can be manufactured into livestock feed or composted to eliminate any waste at all.
Aquaponics Delivers on Every Facet of Sustainability
For any system or process to be sustainable, it needs to fit the mold for at least a few different functions. First, it needs to be environmentally sustainable. That basically means that it needs to be something that isn’t using limited resources that won’t continue producing without taking more out of the environment.
Next, it needs to be financially sustainable. While just about any business or system will have a set of start-up costs, and take a certain amount of time to make a profit, it has to generate revenue and maintain it. After some years of functioning, a commercial project should be able to produce enough profit to at least sustain the expenses of keeping it running.
The last aspect of sustainability to consider is social sustainability. This can be a tougher characteristic to define, but in essence, the project supports the population and vice versa.
Aquaponics easily fits all these crucial aspects of sustainability, and here’s how it does it:
Like we’ve talked a lot about already, aquaponics is highly eco-friendly and environmentally responsible. It doesn’t detract from natural resources, and both the plants and fish can be used to produce successive generations for the next aquaponic harvest.
Setting up an aquaponic system is going to require some startup capital, and often one of the big arguments against aquaponics for profit involves the startup cost. The average commercial-scale aquaponic system can cost anywhere from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands, depending on the actual size, technology being used, and crops and fish.
With that said, many aquaponic farms can produce a profit after being in business for 12 months or less. In fact, about 75% of commercial aquaponic operations end up showing a profit within their first 36 months of service.
Compared to many other businesses, that’s a relatively quick turnaround, since most companies can take up to 5 or 10 years to show a profit and very few are profitable within three years of their startup.
In household aquaponic systems, the startup cost is significantly lower, and some kits are available for starting a system. The cost of these kits can also vary greatly, but several packages are available at a reasonable price.
The real advantage with a home aquaponic garden is how much healthier the food produced is, and of course, the savings on the grocery bill once the aquaponic system starts producing (yes, even for people that don’t plan on living off the grid or eating only the food they grow at home).
Many home aquaponics enthusiasts also like knowing that the fish they grow and consume is safe, and toxin free. With some many pollutants and concerns growing over the mercury content of our fish, having peace of mind that your fish is uncontaminated is a pretty huge bonus for everybody.
Growing your own supplemental produce in a conventional backyard garden can save you about $500 yearly.
With a home aquaponic garden, you’ll need a little extra time to start seeing the monetary benefits of aquaponics (usually within a year or two, depending on the initial cost of your setup).
That said, you’ll also see an increased yield compared to what a backyard garden produces, in addition to the production of fish (if you choose to use those as a food source as well). Basically, you can expect to be saving significantly more, while getting more productive, and more diverse food from your aquaponic garden.
The social sustainability of aquaponics shows itself in different ways, but they’re all an improvement in the population’s culture and well being.
One of the important things to note is that large scale aquaponic farms can be developed within, or near to urban centers. Not only does this reduce the miles and emissions that come with transported food, but it delivers healthier produce since nutrients aren’t lost during shipping and processing.
A nearby aquaponic farm also enriches the community around it, by providing a visible presence that lends itself to education about biology and food production, as well as promoting a culture that’s more aware of eating healthfully.
Aquaponic farms are especially beneficial to specific populations, and aside from urban locations, these tend to be areas where getting access to fresh, healthy food is riddled with barriers. In some regions, this may be a result of land that has poor quality for farming, where cost is a primary obstacle or both.
While many people go immediately to thinking of developing countries (and yes, that is applicable here), remote regions, including islands struggle to maintain a source of fresh produce.
When there is access to fresh produce, it’s often very expensive. As a result, large percentages of the population go without adequate nutrition. Aquaponic systems are gaining popularity in these areas because they offer a solution for a reliable, affordable, and nearby fresh food source.
What’s the difference between hydroponics and aquaponics?
Both systems work to grow food without soil, although hydroponic systems do not grow fish in addition to plants. Hydroponic systems also need nutrients, and fertilizers added, where aquaponic systems do not.
What fish can I grow in my aquaponics?
Freshwater fish that thrive in warmer conditions are ideal for aquaponics. Most commonly, fish are raised as food sources, so popular options include trout, a variety of catfish, and of course, the ever-popular tilapia.
What kinds of plants can you grow in aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a form of agriculture with very few limits, and most plants can be grown in an aquaponics system if the conditions are right. While leafy greens are favored, anything from beans to berries to dwarf fruit trees can grow in aquaponics.