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Most growers would agree that sustainability and cost-effectiveness are two of the primary considerations in putting up a farm. Aquaponics is tagged as one of the best farming techniques that achieves both and can produce more yield compared to conventional farming. Despite being a highly productive planting technique, some farmers are still doubtful if aquaponics does save money in the long run because the initial expense of building the whole system appears to be expensive.
While it is true that the unit’s start-up cost cannot be considered cheap, it has been proven that aquaponics operational costs can be significantly less than soil gardening. In fact, the system doesn’t consume much water, energy, and fertilizer due to its design to be self-sustaining.
In this article, we will discuss how aquaponics saves money by looking at the different factors that affect the system’s operational cost. Several tips on how to cut water and energy consumption are also included to guide growers in managing their unit.
Unlike in traditional planting where plants absorb nutrients from the soil, aquaponics plants greatly rely on the constant flow of water to receive their needed nutrients. However, instead of consuming more water than conventional gardening, aquaponics has recorded lesser consumption because of the system’s ability to filter and re-use. Aquaponics saves 90% of water through recirculation and only uses minimal top-up weekly due to evapotranspiration.
Several studies dedicated to the water efficiency of this system prove that aquaponics growers spend less on water each year. One of which determined that a small-scale raft aquaponics system in Baltimore, Maryland only has 1% water loss per day, thus using only 35,950 liters of water per year for replenishment. This dramatically differs from the water usage of a small traditional vegetable garden that approximately consumes 120,000 liters a year.
To cut more water cost, here are some ways in which you can save water from aquaponics:
- Make sure that the tanks and pipes don’t leak by doing the routine inspection and system maintenance.
- Harvest rainwater to use for the system’s weekly top-off due to water loss. However, it is essential to note that using rainwater is illegal in some cities, so it is better to check the local government regulations before doing this.
- Use float switches that will regulate the amount of water pumped to your system.
According to FAO, the world usage of the three primary fertilizer nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, reached 186.67 million tons last 2016. That’s a lot of dollars used in traditional farming to supply nutrients to plants. In contrast, it has been proven that aquaponics does save money because the system doesn’t require the use of chemical fertilizers. Instead, the plants receive the nutrients they need from the fish waste.
Production of nutrients for aquaponics plants
To understand how aquaponics saves money by eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers, we must look at the step by step process on how the system produces its nutrients.
- The fish living in the tanks produces waste in the water in the form of ammonia.
- Since a high concentration of ammonia is harmful to both fish and plants, certain types of bacteria convert ammonia into nitrates through biofiltration.
- The water which is rich in nitrates is used in the grow beds to serve as plant nutrients.
In cases of plant nutrient deficiency, aquaponics saves more using organic ones such as banana peels, seaweed extract, and bone meal instead of expensive chemical fertilizers available in the market.
Comparing the energy consumption of soil planting and aquaponics is quite hard because they have different energy requirements. For instance, soil gardening utilizes energy to apply fertilizers and pesticides and fueling tractors. On the other hand, aquaponics energy usage is more on water pumping, lighting, and ventilation to regulate cooling and heating capacity for the whole unit.
Nevertheless, some researches and articles state that aquaponics has minimal net power usage because there are only a few pieces of equipment needed to operate the system. A 10.3 m3 aquaponics system in a 116 m2 hoop house in Baltimore, Maryland, only consumes 19,526 kWh per year, which amounts to $2055. The mechanical components that the system use are water pump, water heaters, fans, and fluorescent lights. For smaller backyard systems, significantly lower energy consumption is possible. The estimated cost of power for a backyard unit only ranges from 220 to 636 kWh, thus, highlighting that aquaponics does save money by consuming lesser power.
Since most of the energy used in this system is electrical, here are some ways to cut more power cost:
- Use renewable energy sources such as solar and hydroelectric power if it is possible.
- Purchase a useful cycle timer to control the watering schedule and reduce unnecessary power use by the pump.
- In creating the greenhouse, attach it to an insulated outer wall of a house to ensure that that lesser heat energy is needed to keep the greenhouse from freezing.
- Choose roof vents over exhaust fans because its mechanisms use lesser energy.
Another reason why aquaponics has a low operational cost is because the supplies needed to manage the system is affordable. For example, many available food pellets that supply the nutritional requirements of the fish can be bought from Amazon and other local aquaponics stores near you for only $20 or less.
Although the amount of food consumed by fish changes depending on their age, species, temperature, and other factors, feeding them three times a day would not cost a lot of money if you follow the best practices for fish feeding.
Through looking at the system’s operational cost, we can conclude that aquaponics does save money despite the expensive initial investment. It recorded lesser water and energy consumption as compared to soil-planting and it doesn’t require the use of chemical fertilizers that are known to be unsustainable and costly. Moreover, some other system supplies such as fish food are also very affordable and can be bought in local stores.
A lot of research is available online for you to review if you want to spend less and gain more through this system. This will help you out in managing your aquaponics system expenses.