In agriculture, attempts have been made on numerous occasions to optimize cultivation conditions to improve both the land used and the raw materials and resources used. One of the most revolutionary systems is aquaponics. Many people do not know what is aquaponics nor how to get the most out of it.
Therefore, we are going to dedicate this article to tell you what aquaponics is, its characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.
What is aquaponics
Aquaponics is a food production system that combines the cultivation of aquatic animals (aquaculture) with the cultivation of plants in water (hydroponics) through the continuous recirculation of water in two subsystems.
with this technology space, water and energy are saved, and waste from the system to the environment is reduced or eliminated because everything is used. Healthier, more vibrant and tastier plant and fish products are achieved while respecting the environment.
Aquaponic systems can be designed on any scale, both for private and industrial use. In addition, through this new mode of production, it is beneficial to create jobs, promote self-consumption and the local distribution of fresh and healthy products.
The principle of aquaponics is based on the fact that the waste produced by aquatic organisms (usually fish or crustaceans) are converted by the action of bacteria into the nutrients necessary for plant growth.
Essential bacteria belonging to the genera Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter are involved in this process called nitrification. Thanks to nitrosomonas, ammonium in fish excrement and food is converted to nitrite, which in turn is converted to nitrate by nitrobacter. These nitrates are then taken up directly by the plants and act as biofilters in the system, purifying the water returned to the fish ponds.
how aquaponics works
The system works like this: Fish produce compost, or manure, from the soil after they excrete nutrient-rich waste from their food. In other words, people feed fish to feed people later.
Thus, the natural “fertilizer” excreted by the fish is pumped to the top, where it is absorbed by the plants. At the same time, the roots purify the water by removing these nutrients, which return to where the fish were. This eliminates the need to introduce clean water every week.
The system saves up to 90% of water compared to conventional cultivation and completely eliminates waste that can be generated as it is a closed system. Systems of this type are already used today both in domestic production and in production on an industrial scale. The home aquaponics system can be installed in an urban environment, in the free space of the house, on the balcony, receiving at least 5 hours of sun a day. Large commercial aquaponic systems are also easy to manage, as growers have little control over crop and fish production. Vegetables, such as lettuce, can be harvested after a short cycle of four to six weeks.
The practice of using fish excrement to fertilize plants has been around for thousands of years, with Asia and South America being the first civilizations to apply the method.
About 900 years ago, the Aztecs in Mexico farmed the terraces of Lake Texcoco to take advantage of the water and organic matter produced by the decomposition of fish waste and microalgae at the bottom of the lake.
In the late 1970s, scientific research began to emerge in North America and Europe showing that metabolites produced by fish could be removed from water and used in growing vegetables.
During the following years, technological advances allowed improvements in research areas such as excreta identification, biological waste filtration, and optimal conditions for the creation of closed systems.
Around 2001, at the University of the Virgin Islands, Dr. James Rakocy developed the first commercial aquaponics systemlaying the foundations for its operation. With the emergence of specific aquaponics data, commercial production began to emerge, with a large number of companies.
Today, commercial systems continue to advance to increase efficiencies, and the top countries using such technologies include the United States, Canada, Australia, and Mexico.
The importance and applicability of aquaponics
These issues are becoming more important as supplies of clean water dwindle around the world and the demand for food grows. In this context, aquaponic symbiosis is of great relevancesince it constitutes a method of food production that can be developed on poor and infertile lands with limited water resources.
The variety of aquaponics models allows applications on a commercial, home or self-consumption scale. Another form used in aquaponic symbiosis is the one developed for ornamental purposes, involving fish and aquatic plantswhich can generate considerable profits if managed commercially.
On the other hand, small-scale activities make it possible to easily teach sustainable production management, nutrient cycling, and other technical topics that are important for student development in primary, secondary, and agricultural schools.
Pros and cons
- aquaponic systems They are an effective way to reduce and use the waste that is normally dumped into the environment.
- Water exchange rates can be reduced, reducing operating costs in arid climates where water is a major expense.
- Eliminate the use of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers by producing vegetables that can be considered “organic”.
- Reduce food production in the region, thus optimizing labor resources, water resources, balanced fish feed and plant nutrients.
- Aquaponics can produce plants equal to or better than hydroponic systems, while fish yields are higher and healthier than aquaculture.
- It can be implemented on a small or large scale.
- It is convenient to feed the fish.
- Using simple materials, building materials such as containers can be recycled, which is inexpensive.
- It is ideal for land with low agricultural qualification.
- It does not harm the soil, nor does it harm the water, so it is friendly to the environment.
- Earn two streams of income from growing plants and fish, which can add to the local economy if sold.
- The whole family can participate in its construction and maintenance.
Disadvantages of Aquaponics
- Basic knowledge of plant physiology is required (vegetables) and animal (fish), including water quality parameters, since it is an integrated system of two crops.
- The system relies on electricity to run the pumps and filters, putting the entire system at risk in the event of a power outage, as well as incurring electrical energy costs.
- There are very few species of fish that can be used in aquaponic systems.
I hope that with this information you can learn more about what aquaponics is and its characteristics.