Aquaponics is an agricultural practice incorporating aquaculture and hydroponic principles. This study assesses the current system design and production practices of the aquaponic industry, compares these metrics by stakeholder group, identifies trends, and provides recommendations for future development. An electronic survey of aquaponic stakeholders was conducted from December 2019 to June 2020 targeting hobbyists, producers, and educators from various aquaponic-focused professional associations, and email and social media groups.
Of 378 total responses, 84% came from the United States and were clustered in plant hardiness zones five to nine. Aquaponic systems were commonly homemade/do-it-yourself (DIY), many of which incorporated commercially available (turn-key) technology. Most growers used coupled systems that integrated recirculating aquaculture systems and either deep-water culture (DWC) or media bed hydroponic units. Common plant lighting sources were sunlight and light-emitting diode (LED). Water sources were typically municipal or wells.
Personal labor input was typically less than 20 hrs/wk. Funding sources were primarily personal funds, followed by government grants, and private investor funds. System sizes varied greatly, but the median area was 50 to 500 ft ² for hobbyists and educators and 500 to 3,000 ft ² for producers. Respondents commonly sold vegetable produce, training and education, food fish, and microgreens. Tilapia and ornamental fish were commonly grown, with 16 other species reported. Common crops were lettuce, leafy greens, basil, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs with many additional lesser-grown crops reported, including cannabis. Overall, the industry still growing, with a large portion of stakeholders having less than two years of experience. However, veteran growers have remained in operation, particularly in the producer and educator groups.
The survey results suggest a shift away from outdoor systems, media beds, tomatoes, ornamental fish, and perch production, and a shift toward decoupled systems, DWC, drip irrigation, and wicking beds, larger system area, leafy greens, and trout/salmon production compared to previous industry surveys. The reduced diversity of plant species grown suggest some level of crop standardization. Commercial producers tended to sell more types of products than other stakeholders, suggesting that diversification of offerings may be key to profitability. The combined production area specified by respondents indicates the industry has grown substantially in recent years. Finally, the presence of bank loan-funded operations suggests increased knowledge and comfort with aquaponics among lenders.
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Pattillo, D. & Hager, Janelle & Cline, David & Roy, Luke & Hanson, Terry. (2022). System design and production practices of aquaponic stakeholders. PLOS ONE. 17. e0266475. 10.1371/journal.pone.0266475.