When it comes to future food production, the combined farming of fish and vegetables through aquaponics is currently a hotly debated topic. But how realistic is the idea? Publicly available data and analysis on the economic feasibility of professional aquaponics are at present very limited. Researchers from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) have just published an extensive profitability analysis of a facility that already produces fish and vegetables on a large scale. The result: aquaponics may have both environmental and cost benefits -- if produced according to good agricultural practice and under suitable conditions.
The subject of analysis was the aquaponic system of the "Mueritzfischer," located in Waren (Mueritz). This 540 square metre facility produces fish and vegetables in a combined recirculating system. The aquaponic system was built within "INAPRO," an EU-funded project led by IGB.
The researchers carried out extensive analysis based on real one-year production data. Although the aquaponic system was not profitable at the research stage, the very extensive and valuable set of data it produced enabled the researchers to develop two scenarios for production practice. One scenario showed that the aquaponics approach is profitable if facilities are sufficiently large. On the basis of this scenario, the scientists developed a model case with defined economic key indicators, enabling them to calculate the figures for different sized facilities.
"It is a good thing that there is a social, political and economic interest in aquaponics as a future technology. The aim of our study is to offer a research-based contribution to this debate, pointing out the opportunities and the challenges involved. This is one of the reasons why we decided to publish our findings cost-free, in open access format," explained Professor Werner Kloas, leader of the project.
According to the IGB researchers, the main obstacles for commercial aquaponics are the high investment costs and, especially in Germany, the high operating costs such as for fish feed, labour and energy. They also state that undertakings must have the necessary expertise in both aquaculture and horticulture. Furthermore, the margin reportedly depends to a considerable extent on the market environment and the production risks, which are very difficult to forecast in some cases.
(Source: Agriculture and Food News, ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com)