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The industrial farming industry didn’t exist 100 years ago. However, today a vast number of consumers receive much of their fruits and vegetables from supply-chains riddled with chemical pesticides, non-sustainable growing methods, and major environmental issues. So, it’s not difficult to see why many independent growers are now turning to aquaponics as a way to break the mold of traditional farming. After all, the idea of harvesting crops in less time and raising dinner-table-ready fish in your backyard is quite attractive. In fact, it’s attractive enough that many growers are now deciding to start a commercial business using this system. But are aquaponics profitable? Can you make money with this recirculating system?
There aren’t many large-scale economic studies on aquaponics system profitability because it’s still a relatively new technique for commercial practitioners. Another limiting factor for the long-term study of aquaponic profitability is the high upfront investment cost, making it a costly endeavor for the average person. In this article, we will discuss the business side of aquaponics and show you how to improve the profitability of your aquaponics system.
The Common Types of Aquaponics Systems
Aquaponics can be divided into three main categories depending on the scalability: DIY, Mini Tank System, and Commercial Aquaponics. If you are fond of the farm-to-table movement, aiming to harvest food for your family any day, a DIY backyard aquaponics is the way to go. If you are new to aquaponics and don’t mind growing only a few herbs, then a mini system will be the best choice. Meanwhile, if you want to take it to the next level, you can do business with commercial aquaponics.
Before jumping into the trend of sustainable gardening methods for commercial purposes, bear in mind that the running costs are relatively high for aquaponics. More electricity is needed to keep your system running. Compared to traditional agriculture, however, aquaponics tends to conserve water more and have lower overall recurring expenditures.
Making Money in Aquaponics is Not A Guaranteed Success
Despite the sustainability and benefits of aquaponics, it can’t guarantee success when done with commercial purposes in mind. A 2014 Johns Hopkins University study can shed some light on the profitability of aquaponics. The study looked into the financial success of 257 commercial aquaponics growers, mostly in the U.S. Below are the key takeaways from the study:
- In addition to the aquaponics setup, most commercial operations used a greenhouse
- The average size of aquaponics operations is 1,307 sq. Ft. or 0.03 acres, with 40 percent of the growers having a home system, while the remainder is located on agricultural and commercial zones.
- Most of the participants used more than one type of aquaponics system (nutrient film technique, deep-water culture, media beds); media beds and deep-water systems are most commonly used.
- 31% of the respondents were successful with their commercial venture
- 55% are projected to be profitable in the next 12 months, while 75% are projected to be profitable in the next 36 months.
- 70% of the growers did not consider commercial aquaponics operations as their primary source of income.
With these takeaways, it can be concluded that commercial aquaponics is not highly profitable compared to traditional agriculture, as only one-third of the respondents had successful operations. However, note that the study done at that time involved operations that are still in their start-up phase.
Another thing to highlight is that over two-thirds of participants didn’t rely on their aquaponics setup as their primary source of income. This could have a significant influence on future projections of profitability because it’s likely that some of the respondents are not including payroll in their business costs at this time.
It is likely that the profitability statistics of aquaponics would change if the evaluation is done on growers whose main source of livelihood is their aquaponics business.
Ways to Improve Aquaponics Profitability
The study also noted that the success of a commercial aquaponics operation could be attributed to three factors:
1) Variety of products related to aquaponics
In addition to selling plants and fish, growers can also profit from products or services like aquaponics courses or consulting.
2) Business knowledge
Growers who have more in-depth knowledge of aquaponics are more likely to have a profitable business. For this reason, jumping into aquaponics without being armed with knowledge is not recommended. There are also courses offered to have a better understanding of the business side of aquaponics.
3) Dedication to the system
Those who made aquaponics as their primary source of income were “five times more likely” to succeed in their operations than those who don’t dedicate their time to maintaining the system.
Aquaponics Business Tips
Apart from the factors mentioned above, there are other ways on how you can increase the profitability of your system. Below are some tips:
- Grow crops that are considered premium quality in your region to balance the cost involved in running your business
- Consider raising edible fish, such as tilapia or trout, instead of ornamental ones like koi or goldfish
- Know the best fish to use in aquaponics based on your local climate, as this reduces the need for water heaters
- More importantly, start out with a small system and develop your confidence in aquaponics before thinking about the commercial aspect. This should help you prepare for future expansion.
Conclusion: Are Aquaponics Profitable?
Aquaponics is a relatively new method of farming, yet it’s an industry that’s rapidly growing. But just because it’s a hobby that you can engage in doesn’t mean that you can immediately start with a commercial operation. Reliable data on the economic evaluation of aquaponics is currently unavailable. While aquaponics does have its set of benefits, it’s still too early to tell whether or not it can be truly profitable.