“Commercial aquaponics production and profitability: Findings from an international survey” (Love et al 2015)

Citation: Love, D., Fry, J, Li, X., Hill, E., Genello, L., Semmens, K., Thompson, R. (2015). “Commercial aquaponics productio and profitability: Findings from an international survey.” Aquaculture, 435, pp. 67-74. DOI: 10.1016/j.aquaculture.2014.09.023

Summary By: Alexandra Pounds

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

  • Big Picture: Commercial-scale aquaponics is a relatively young industry, and this study was unable to determine if it will be profitable. The study did examine what most common practices were for aquaponics production in the USA. 
  • While many studies have focused on lab-scale or small-scale aquaponic production, his study aimed to examine commercial-scale aquaponics production. It looked at methods, yields, and profitability.
  • Methods:
    • Online international survey, responses were collected over 3 months
    • They used several statistic and data software to help with analysis.
  • Results:
    • Responses:
      • 257 responses. Only 188 were considered “commercial” producers.
      • 81% of responses were from the USA.
      • 77% of responses were male.
      • 93% had more than high school degrees, 27% had a graduate degree.
      • As less than 10% had been farmed for more than 10 years, it indicates that the industry is growing and experience levels are low.
    • FACILITY: 41% used greenhouses & a second facility. 31% used only a greenhouse, and 4% used rooftop farming. 74% owned the property.
    • SYSTEM: 71% designed the system themselves. 29% purchased a kit or hiring a consultant.
      • 43% used supplemental lighting
      • 43% raised or bred their own fish using a nursery or hatchery.
      • Media:
        • 77% used floating rafts
        • 76% used media beds
        • 29% used nutrient film technique
        • 29% used vertical towers
        • 6% used wicking beds
        • 5% used Dutch buckets
      • Production & Food Safety:
        • Over 50% did not have on-site cooling facilities
        • 33% did not have on-site bathrooms or adequate hand-washing facilities
        • 38% lacked a food safety plan (indicating educational needs)
    • PRODUCTION:
      • Median quantity animals: 23 to 45 kg/yr
      • 24% did not harvest any fish in the past year, probably because they were new operations
      • Median quantity of plants: 45 to 226 kg/yr
      • Production is skewed towards plants (ie, on average, aquaponics farmers produce more plants than animals). This is probably because:
        • particular species of plants were more valuable than the fish (herbs versus tilapia)
        • plants grow faster than animals, and can be harvested sooner
        • biomass conversion ratio for plants is better than fish – for example, 9kg of lettuce can result from fish manure from 1kg of fish feed, whereas feed conversion ratios of fish are around 1:1
    • SPECIES:
      • Aquatic animals: tilapia (69%), ornamental fish (43%), catfish (25%), “other” (18%), perch (16%), bluegill (15%), trout (10%), and bass (7%).
      • Most farmers raised 2-3 species of animal.
      • Plants: basil (81%), salad greens (76%), non-basil herbs (73%), tomatoes (68%), head lettuce (68%, kale (56%, chard (55%, bok choi (51%) peppers (48%), and cucumbers (45%)
    • MARKET: sold to a variety of market types, including grocery stores, farmer’s markets, etc. Many sold at their own farm.
    • PROFITABILITY:
      • 30% of respondents used the aquaponics as their main source of income
      • 31% of respondents reported that their business was profitable over the last 12 months.
      • Median gross sales revenue: $1000-$5000 over 12 months
      • 10% of respondents received over $50,000 over 12 months
      • those that sold other products (other than fish & plants) were more profitable
      • those who were more knowledgeable were over 2x as likely to be profitable.
      • those who used aquaponics as their primary source of income were over 5x as likely to be profitable.
      • Those who had >$5000 in revenue were more likely to be profitable
    • SUMMARY: The following characteristics were statistically associated with profitable businesses:
      • aquaponics was the primary source of income
      • located with the USDA’s “plant hardiness zones” (zones with annual extreme temperatures above 0 deg F)
      • gross sales revenue >$5000
      • greater aquaponics knowledge
      • sales of non-food products (ie, agrotourism, consulting, supplies)
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2 thoughts on ““Commercial aquaponics production and profitability: Findings from an international survey” (Love et al 2015)”

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