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PICS PICA: a scalable aquaponics system

"If you add 1 kg of fish food, it will produce 1 kg of fish and 10-12 kg of vegetables"

Five hours north of Stockholm lies an aquaponic farm that has spent decades perfecting its system and will soon be ready to distribute its systems to other growers. Peckas Naturodlingar AB is located in Härnösand and was established nearly 25 years ago when founder Pecka Nygård witnessed the environmental impacts of fish farming and wanted to begin a land-based fish farm. After reading about aquaponic systems developed in the United States, Pecka saw the potential for such technology to create full-circle agricultural solutions.

From 1996 to 2013, Pecka tested cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and other crops in aquaponic systems. The main fish species raised in conjunction with crop production were rainbow trout and tilapia, while the company is currently evaluating perch as a viable aquaponic species.

When Daniel Brännström joined the company in 2013, he began considering how the system could be made more scalable and what the minimum viable size would be. Without many greenhouses in the region to use as models, Peckas Naturodlingar AB looked across the Gulf of Bothnia to Närpes, which reportedly has 80 ha of greenhouses producing 60% of the cucumbers and tomatoes eaten in Finland. Also, the early half of these growers are winter farms thus are using supplemental lighting. Närpes thus became a good model for Peckas Naturodlingar AB with respect to greenhouse management.

From 2013 to 2019, the company expanded and built a 13,500-m2 aquaponic greenhouse in Härnösand, equipped with gravel-based growing beds and Gavita greenhouse lighting. The greenhouse employs 30 people and produces cucumbers, tomatoes, and fish which have been delivered to stores since 2018. Peckas Naturodlingar AB produces 600 tonnes of vegetables and 60 tonnes of fish per year.

Whereas most greenhouses using Rockwool as a substrate and irrigate in multiple intervals, Peckas Naturodlingar AB grows in gravel beds and allows the water to run through continuously.

“Peckas tested tomatoes and cucumber in different media. While it worked, the yields weren’t as high as when they were grown in gravel. So we needed to use tomato varieties that worked well both under lights and in gravel, and all of them seemed to do so. In gravel, you have a living bio-bed of microorganisms and small worms, which the plant likes,” explains Daniel.

Production in an aquaponic system means that the plants are fertilized with nutrient-rich water from the fish basins. By absorbing the nutrients in the water, the plant roots are also filtering the water before it returns to the basin. The only addition to the water, reportedly, is fish feed.

“If you add 1 kg of fish food, it will produce 1 kg of fish and 10-12 kg of vegetables, provided all of the nutrients are completely used. Then you can also ferment pruned leaves, extract the nutrients and add that to the solution as well,” says Daniel.

One of the challenges to combining fish and vegetable production is needing to manage both crop production and fish rearing simultaneously. This is particularly true for pH management, with plants preferring a slightly low pH while fish prefer a slightly high pH always push the pH higher. To address this, Peckas has developed its Peckas Intelligent Control System, or PICS PICA will also be a part of Peckas Naturodlingar AB’s marketed aquaponic system, which will be sold through Peckas Solutions.

Peckas Solutions plans to have its systems available for purchase by the summer and will first target Sweden, then Norway, and northern Europe. Peckas Solutions envisions building its farms near, if not adjacent to, local grocery stores so that consumers can see the system and purchase hyperfresh products. Peckas Compact (photo below) was designed for exactly this.

“With aquaponics, you consider the whole circle of farming. That is the future. We need more fish in our diets but cannot keep getting it from the ocean. So how can we do that in an environmentally friendly way?” says Daniel.

For more information:
Peckas Solutions