It has already been done, combining fish farming with vegetable growing, but the number of these initiatives in Flanders can be counted on one hand. Reason enough to start the Smart Aquaponics project in 2018. Recently, the project was concluded with a closing event where the University of Liège presented an application that allows growers to predict the expected harvest based on parameters such as the size of the tanks and the type of fish and plant.
What is aquaponics?
Sustainable fish farming and growing vegetables at the same time. A perfect match because both water and energy are utilized optimally. This is possible with aquaponics, a technique combining aquaculture, farming fish or other aquatic organisms, and hydroponics, the soilless cultivation of vegetables.
Because the water is rich in fish excrement, it serves as a source of nutrition for the crops grown in it. In turn, the plants filter the water so that it can be reused for fish farming. This technique allows fresh fish and vegetables to be produced locally on a limited surface in an urban environment.
Aquaponics is on the rise
Aquaponics can be an important weapon to guarantee the future food supply. In Europe, the aquaponics sector was on the rise in 2018. In France, there are already 22 professional aquaponics farms and 23 projects in the pipeline. In Belgium, there are currently 13 professional aquaponics farms under development. In Flanders, there is an aquaponic system at the horticultural college in Kortrijk, at the test center for vegetable cultivation in Kruisem, and at a care farm in Drongen. In addition, there is a professional uncoupled aquaponic system in Kruisem where two companies work together: Tomato Masters grows tomatoes and delivers its rainwater to Aqua4C. They grow omega perch in it and give the nutrient-rich residual water back to irrigate the tomato plants. For the time being, fish are still swimming in the sea, but who knows, soon they will be swimming in the city under, above, or next to your vegetable garden.
Smart Aquaponics project supports the growers of the future
For now, Flanders can count the number of initiatives on one hand. After all, unknown is unloved. That is why the Smart Aquaponics project was launched in 2018. But how does an aquaponics system work? And how do you build one? The 10 partners wrote a course in aquaponics for secondary and higher education to teach the growers of the future the ins and outs of aquaponic systems.
The University of Liège also created an application that allows you to predict the expected harvest based on parameters such as tank size and type of fish and plant. The tool should help a beginning urban farmer to conceive a proper setup. After a few rounds of trial and error, you can start building the aquaponics installation (or having it built).
Once the system is in place, good monitoring is required to ensure sustainable and successful production. Sensors can monitor an aquaponics system in great detail. Think of sensors that can measure temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen. Howest developed a data transfer and monitoring system that allows remote monitoring of an aquaponics installation. If threshold values are exceeded, this triggers an alarm, which in turn saves the fish and plants.
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