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Aquaponics is a highly sustainable method of growing plants and fish that has begun attracting the interest of traditional growers worldwide. While the environmental and economic benefits of soilless techniques like aquaponics become more apparent, many traditional soil gardeners are hesitant to make the switch to aquaponics because of the system’s start-up and operational cost. But is aquaponics expensive? Do you have to invest a lot of money to build this soilless planting system?
Investing in aquaponics can be expensive or inexpensive, depending on the scale and complexity of the system you want to achieve. Even though a new aquaponic practitioner would have some initial startup expenses to build the unit, the price range can vary quite significantly for commercial vs. backyard systems. And while the overall investment is relatively higher than soil planting, many professionals find the switch more beneficial over the long term.
In this article, we will focus on the estimated cost of both commercial and backyard aquaponics systems based on the collective results of different studies.
What is a Commercial Aquaponics System?
Commercial aquaponics is an agricultural sector that aims to produce local organic food on a larger scale. To ensure that both plants and fish are protected from environmental conditions and pests, commercial growers often use greenhouses that leverage eco-friendly and sustainable methods such as solar power to maximize both efficiency and profit.
In an international research study on commercial aquaponics production and profitability conducted by John Hopkins University, found that most commercial aquaponic farms use greenhouses with an average size of 1,307 sq. Ft. and most of the growers are using two or more types of aquaponic systems. These requirements, along with production costs, explain why commercial aquaponics systems need a higher capital compared to traditional gardening methods like Hugelkultur.
The estimated cost of a commercial aquaponics system
Murray Hallam, the author of Aquaponic Gardening: Book of Plans, stated in an interview that a commercial aquaponic farm that earns $500 to $1000 a week would probably need initial investment capital of $20,000. However, Hallam clarifies that this amount still greatly depends on the location in which you are planning to build your aquaponics system. Hallam gave an example by comparing two geographical locations. He said that the building cost might be higher in one of the Northern States of the USA because they have cold winters, and their unit would require a heater, unlike in Queensland, Australia that has a pleasant climate the whole year.
Also, a study conducted by the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) on the economic analysis of aquaponics determined the total system capital required for their commercial farm was $22,642. In setting up the whole commercial system for their research, the researchers computed the capital cost by listing down all the fish and plant production components, including fish tanks, sump tanks, air stones, belt feeders, and other materials with their unit price. Despite the high investment cost, the researchers concluded that the aquaponic farm they have developed at the UVI is profitable because the revenues exceeded the cost production.
The system capital used by the researchers of the University of the Virgin Islands is far less than the cost of another aquaponic facility featured in PBS News Hour called the LEAF or Living Ecosystem Aquaponics Facility in California. In which $75,000 was spent building the greenhouse, including the building materials, solar panels for the roof, fish, seeds, and the salary of the two-member staff.
There are also a lot of commercial aquaponics systems marketed online that will answer the question “Is aquaponics expensive?” For instance, Nelson and Pade offer a complete commercial aquaponics package from small to expanding large systems. The system cost for a small commercial system is $ 59,995, while the sizeable commercial system with a living filter beds system costs $114,995.
Backyard or DIY Aquaponics Systems
If your goal is to produce enough crops and fish for your family, a small scale aquaponics system in your backyard is worth the investment. The requirements for a domestic aquaponics system is not as expensive as the commercial ones. You just have to own a fish tank that can accommodate 1,000 litres of water and a space of 3 by 3 meters, and you can start growing your food.
If you are looking for aquaponics stores near you, most materials that you will need are available at hardware stores and online shops. You can also decide to recycle available materials. For instance, you can purchase a big blue container from Home Depot to serve as your fish tank, and you can create a seed tray from empty yogurt cups.
The estimated cost of a DIY or backyard aquaponics system
There is minimal literature on the start-up and operational cost of a backyard aquaponics system to date that’s why answering the question “is aquaponics expensive?” and estimating the total cost of the system is quite hard. However, one of the few research pieces that focus on cost analysis of domestic aquaponic systems is the work of Richard Chiang, an aquaponics advocate from Canberra.
In his study, Richard categorized backyard aquaponics into five types: the courtyard, the entertainer, the backyard, the family, and the deluxe. He based the sizes of the systems according to the number of grow beds, fish tank capacity, water pump capacity, power consumption, and some other factors. The figure below shows the capital cost of each type of backyard aquaponics system that Richard included in his study. The “other cost” mentioned pertains to the estimated operational cost of power, fish, seedlings, and water used in the system.
|Backyard Aquaponics System||The Courtyard||The Entertainer||The Backyard||The Family||The Deluxe|
|Delivery and Installation||$425||$675||$675||$1,300||$1,300|
These figures are relatively lower than those of a commercial aquaponic unit, which typically range from 20,000 to 115,000.
If you still find the amount mentioned above a little pricey, you can research on how you can use recycled materials in your backyard aquaponics unit. You can also visit physical and online stores to look for materials that are a little less expensive but still of good quality.
Growers who are asking “Is aquaponics expensive?” should first identify the size of the system they are trying to build because starting an aquaponics operation could require a small or moderate to large-sized investment. However, over the long-term, this system can be more beneficial because it is highly sustainable. For instance, it uses a little water because of recirculation, and it doesn’t require chemical fertilizers because the fish supply the nutrients to the plant.
For DIY or backyard systems, aquaponic enthusiasts can opt for recycled materials to lessen the start-up cost. On the other hand, for commercial aquaponics unit, it is best to plan and consult aquaponic professionals first before purchasing materials for the greenhouse.