Aquaponic system has many very concrete advantages as a food production system as well as some downsides. Let’s discover the main ones.
Pros of Aquaponics
Water Use Efficiency
Because of its cyclical nature, aquaponics is extremely efficient when it comes to water usage. For the same amount of produce, an aquaponic farm requires around 2% of water ( source) that the regular farm would use. That is largely due to the fact that water is not lost in evaporation from land.
When compared to standard aquaculture, for the same tilapia yield aquaponic system needs only 1% of water for regular pond culture.
Self-Sustainability and Resilience
One of the main advantages of aquaponics is that you can create a closed system which requires very little outer input – basically, you just have to provide food for the fish and they will in turn create food for your plant cultures.
Also, aquaponics is ideal for personal and family food production since it provides you with both vegetables and quality animal protein. These are the reasons why projects like The New Alchemy Institute “Ark” often use aquaponics as the centerpiece of their food systems.
Local and Global Food Security
Aquaponics might be a part of the solution to the increasing global food demand. By adding aquaculture component to hydroponic plant growing, aquaponics provide much-needed protein from fish, which is at the same time easy to farm. Extreme efficiency of an aquaponic system is also a great advantage in times when pressure to produce more food is big.
Besides water use efficiency, aquaponics has other environmental benefits. There is no need for agricultural land – the negative impacts on soil аre avoided, and no land conversion (deforestation) is needed. There is no pesticide and fertilizer runoff which would pollute the surrounding land and water ecosystems.
Also, many “ecologically dead“ spaces such as warehouses can be turned into viable farms.
The broader benefit in tune with the goals of sustainable development is that local food production provides easy access to healthy foods and enhances the local economy.
Diversifying Your Offer at the Market
The combination of always-fresh fish and leafy vegetables can make you quite an attractive competitor in the farmer’s market, especially with the recent consumer focus on locally and sustainably produced food.
Cons of Aquaponics
As any other man-made system, aquaponic systems too have their drawbacks and current limitations.
While you can experiment with small-scale systems for a relatively small amount of money, starting large-scale commercial production can be costly, with the expenses ranging from 2000 to 10000 US dollars on average according to some sources.
- Aquaponics is power-hungry, especially if you are planning to maintain your production during the winter. Water pumps, lighting and heating all consume a lot of power. Power demands can be met by utilizing an independent home-scale renewable source such as wind or solar.
- Aquaculture component takes up more space and is not as modular as many hydroponics systems. Unlike for example, vertical hydroponic installations, aquaculture component of an aquaponic is voluminous and requires a space of its own. Yet, it is still much more space-efficient than regular aquaculture or agriculture.
- Water quality requires frequent testing and monitoring, and you have to regularly check if all the mechanical parts of the system are in tune and in good shape. You have to monitor your fish for diseases, which are not always easy to spot. In short, a lot of routine controls have to be done often.
- If you are planning on entering the food market, the product placement is still limited to niche or exclusive markets.