Aquaponics Association Advises U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Keep Aquaponic Species Off the "Injurious" List

March 1, 2017

The Aquaponics Association has submitted its opinion to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that the FWS should take no current action on the Center for Invasive Species Prevention’s (CISP) petition of September, 2016. CISP petitioned the FWS to list 43 new aquatic species as “injurious”, including several species vital to the aquaponics industry. These listings would make it difficult or impossible to grow many of the common aquaponic fish.

The Aquaponics Association urges the FWS to conduct a more stringent ecological risk analysis before it takes any actions; and to balance CISP’s goal of preventing invasive species proliferation with the aquaponics industry’s safe and legitimate use of a wide variety of fish.

In December, 2016 the Aquaponics Association sent a letter to FWS Director Mr. Craig Martin stating that certain species on the petition are vitally important to the aquaponics industry and should not be listed as “injurious”. Furthermore, most aquaponic systems are “closed-loop” and do not have a natural means for fish to escape into natural waterways.

The Aquaponics Association continues to follow the FWS’s actions on this petition, and will advocate that the FWS keep species important to the aquaponics industry off the injurious list unless a thorough assessment of ecological risks shows such action is necessary. See below for a copy of the Aquaponics Association's letter to the FWS.


Aquaponics Association Letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

AA Logo

December 22, 2016

Mr. Craig Martin, Chief
Branch of Aquatic Invasive Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041

Dear Mr. Martin:
The Aquaponics Association urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take no action on the 43 aquatic species which were petitioned to be listed as injurious by the Center for Invasive Species Prevention in September, 2016.

Aquaponics is a highly efficient method to grow fish and plants in a recirculating, symbiotic system. Aquaponics uses 90% less water than traditional soil growth, and it does not require pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics. It can also grow food in urban or drought-stricken environments.

Aquaponics practitioners employ a variety of aquatic species. Several species popular in both commercial, educational, and personal aquaponic systems are included on this petition, such as varieties of Tilapia, Carp, Catfish, and Perch. If these species were to be listed as injurious, it would be extremely damaging to the aquaponics industry.

The aquaponics industry is growing rapidly, and commercial systems are becoming mainstream. This is good news for our health and our environment because aquaponics is a highly sustainable source of local fresh produce, and an efficient source of protein. The listing of these aquatic species as injurious would be harmful not just for our industry, but for our entire environment.

Aquaponic systems are closed-loop, without any logical way for aquatic species to escape into the wild. Aquaponics has been practiced successfully for decades without any known incidence of aquatic species escaping. Therefore, the Aquaponics Association urges you to take no current action regarding this petition.


Thank you,

Brian Filipowich
Director of Public Policy
The Aquaponics Association

Washington Post Boosts Tilapia

The Washington Post recently ran an article of interest to the aquaponic community: Tilapia Has a Terrible Reputation. Does it Deserve It? (Tamar Haspel. Washington Post. October 24, 2016.)

The Post found that tilapia has an unfair bad rap, and this should make us aquaponic folk angry! Because its costing us!

The article states: “Tilapia, in short, is an environmentally friendly, lean, low-calorie source of protein. We need all of those we can get.” And they did a taste test among some top Washington, DC food gurus; tilapia ranked 2nd of 6 among similar types of fish.

The commercial performance of tilapia is important to the success of the aquaponic industry. Tilapia is the most commonly used aquaponic fish because of its ability to withstand wide variances of ph, temperature, and water quality. And cuz its a quick efficient grower. In a 2015 survey, Commercial Aquaponics Production and Profitability, Findings from an International Survey (Love et al, 2015), researchers found that 69% of respondents used tilapia.

While tilapia is not as healthy or delicious as salmon, it is a lean source of healthy protein. Aquaponics offers us a way to grow this lean healthy protein locally, even in urban areas. This could have dramatically positive repercussions for our health, environment, and economy. But, perversely, these fish are more of an economic liability than an asset for most aquaponic operations, as found in a 2015 paper: Economics of Aquaponics (Engle, 2015).

Right now, tilapia is undervalued because of consumers’ misconceptions (which stem from poor-quality chinese tilapia imports). We need to show consumers that tilapia – when raised appropriately – is healthy and tasty. Then the price of tilapia will rise like the water in your media bed!

For some aquaponic operations, an increase in the price of tilapia will have a significant effect on their bottom line.

(And this does not even go into the fact that we don’t adequately charge for the costs of our food system to our environment and health. Is it REALLY cheaper to buy a tilapia raised in unhealthy conditions shipped from thousands of miles away in China?????!?!?!? We need to start building the hidden costs of our food system into our food prices. These costs include extreme water usage, carbon usage, pesticide usage, antibiotic usage, fertilizer usage, and nutrient runoff. Then the price of long-distance industrially-produced food would go up and we would be incentivized to buy local food… which would also benefit our economy!)

And see another good industry survey: An International Survey of Aquaponics Practitioners (Love et al, 2014)

How to Build a Small Aquaponics System

Demo System at the Aquaponics Association booth at the Topeka, KS, Mother Earth News Fair

Demo System at the Aquaponics Association booth at the Topeka, KS, Mother Earth News Fair

Over the past year we've been participating in the Mother Earth News Fairs around the United States. One of the fun parts of the experience has been having a working aquaponics system for folks to look at. Because we are trying to educate people who might be considering a commercial venture about the need for filtration and the benefits of biodigestion, we wanted our little demo unit to model those aspects of a system, as well as having fish and plants.

Some of the constraints we had for this system was that it pack into a carry-on, along with our brochures, so we could avoid having to pay for extra luggage. We also wanted this system to be something that was affordable and available at local stores. The tools needed to create this are a drill with 5/16" and 1" bits and 2" and 3" hole saws, scissors to cut the tubing, and a PVC pipe cutter ($10).

It turns out that 3/4" PVC pipe is just barely bigger than 1" in diameter. So while it is nice to have some kind of bulkhead fitting, it is possible in this system to simply drill a hole and (gently) push the PVC pipe through the hole for the plumbing.

These are pictures taken while I was disassembling the system shown above, to show you how the piece parts come together.

Here's the system packed in my luggage. I've got the pamphlets packed next to the extension cord.

I've got three Sterilite shoeboxes with four lids, and the pumps and plumbing things fit into the shoebox. The Sterilite boxes stack particularly compactly.

One of the things I can't pack in my luggage is the 5 gallon bucket I use for a sump. I like this dark blue bucket (available at Lowes) because it will do a good job of blocking the light from causing algae growth in the water. While not shown, adding some sort of bio bits (like bioballs or bottle caps) to host nitrifying bacteria along with the aeration can create what is termed a "moving bed bioreactor." This aids in transforming ammonia into nitrate.

Here's a view of the water pump I use for this system. Because this system is so small, you can get by with a little pump.

The lid for the 5 gallon bucket has a series of holes drilled into it. The two 3" holes are for the drains from the Sterilite bins. The two 1" holes are for the pump power cord and tubing and for the airstone and tubing. There are also three small holes for fastening this lid to a Sterilite lid that supports the bins.

I mentioned there are four lids. The extra lid is mounted to the lid of the 5 gallon bucket to serve as a stable base for the upper bins. Short PVC stubs support the extra lid above the 5 gallon bucket to keep it level. The holes in this lid match the three small holes in the lid of the 5 gallon bucket. Toggle bolts with washers are used to connect the lids.

This view of the lids shows how the toggle bolts fasten from underneath.

Here you see the lids once they have been snapped onto the bucket. Note the washers that keep the bolts from ripping through the plastic.

The lowest bin is the filter. This is a super simple filter that just gives the solids in the water a chance to settle to the bottom before the water drains into the sump. The pipe with the elbow shows how the water draining into the filter is pointed at the wall, to stop the jetting flow. A further refinement would be to add a cup with holes drilled into it, to further disperse the fast-moving flows. A bit of bird netting could be added to attract the fine floaty solids that otherwise like to collect on plant roots.

This view shows how the angled pipe fits into the fishtank bin.

For the demo I use plastic fish. You want an airstone in the fish tank portion. If you have trouble with the stone coming out of the water, you can ziptie a rock to it. The plumbing has two 90 elbows so that water coming out of the tank is sucked from the bottom of the fish tank. This drain is at the side because water flowing in from the grow bed above will push the solids to the other end of the tank. Not show is a hole in the top of the drain loop to prevent the water from siphoning and leaving the fish in shallow water.

The top bin will be the grow bed. Note the holes in the side for the water pump and airstone tubing. I drilled the hole to be just larger than the tubing, so this hole is smaller than 1".

Here the PVC drain, pump tubing, and airstone have been installed. I tighten a zip tie around the water tubing so it can't pull back out of the top bin. Ideally this tubing should be black. A further refinement would be to use a 90 degree connector so the tubing itself didn't have to bend at this point.

The grow bed lid is drilled with 2" holes to accommodate net pots or grow grips.

The last assembly step is to add plants. I typically stop by a local grocery store and purchase one of the herb pots. Basil is a particularly good demo plant. You can use 2" net pots with some sort of rocks or beads, but I prefer to use grow grips. Grow grips also come in a 1" size, if that is sufficient for the plants you wish to grow in your small system.

The extra element of the system is a biodigester: a bucket with an airstone which agitates the stuff from the filter to extract nutrients from the solids and make them water soluble. Basically it does the same thing your stomach and small intestine do to the "solids" you eat. To get the nutrients back into your system, simply turn off the air for about 30 minutes and pour the clear liquid on top back into the system. Then you can remove the filter (a two person job for this system) and pour the water and solids into the biodigester bucket. Turn the air back on to resume "digestion." You can put worms in the biodigester if desired. The airstone will ensure they have plenty of oxygen and they'll transform the residual solids into worm castings.

Voila! The complete system. Add coverings for the bins to keep light out, which can be made from strips of paper bags. The stickies were used for an activity with children to demonstrate the different parts of the system.

Aquaponics 101 and Future Trends: Mother Earth News Fair Presentation

Here's the slide deck presented at the Mother Earth News Fairs during 2016. There is also a link to the audio recorded in September at Seven Springs, PA.

The slides cover some basics about growing plants, raising fish, and building systems, along with discussion of how (and why) system designs have evolved over time. Finally there is discussion about water footprint, which is an area where aquaponics truly shines.

The audio lasts about 60 minutes and is here.

State of the Aquaponics Association, October 2016

As we anticipate the upcoming Aquaponics Association elections in November 2016, I urge you to put your hat in the ring to serve as an elected officer, to guide aquaponics moving forward.

What is the state of the Aquaponics Association? We've been hampered by the woes of an all-volunteer organization, but several great things have happened.

1) The Aquaponics Association won a $150,000 grant with NASA to study the microecology of aquaponics systems! NASA is interested in aquaponics ecology because of what it can tell us about growing food in space. The Association was a key partner in this grant. On a related note: we’re looking for aquaponic growers interested in having the microflora in their systems sampled. Contact us at and mention "NASA" to sign up.

2) AA has made several key steps in keeping aquaponics and hydro eligible for organic certification. These include collecting over 2,000 signatures on a petition to keep AP+HP organic; collaborating with Bright Agrotech to spread the news on the science behind organic AP & hydro; teaming up with orgs like the Recirculating Farms Coalition and the Coalition for Sustainable Organics to fight the narrowing of organic label to only soil farming; and testifying directly to NOSB on why aquaponics and hydro should be organic. The fight is still on. Sign up here to add your voice—deadline is October 26!

3) Food safety: At least three commercial growers have been able to get full-scale food safety certification, or are currently in the process, thanks to the Association’s work in this area. Being able to pass a food safety audit is key for these growers to attract investor funding and achieve market viability. Our hats off to these growers for their hard work and showing the world that our industry is up to the challenge!

4) For 2016 the Aquaponics Association made a commitment to participating at all the Mother Earth News Fairs around the United States, bringing information about aquaponics to the tens of thousands of individuals who attend these weekends. In past years we had attended the Asheville, NC and Seven Springs events, but 2016 saw the Aquaponics Association step up to provide presentations on aquaponics as well as man an information booth.

5) In February 2016 the Aquaponics Association continued its involvement with the Aquaculture community, participating in the combined World Aquaculture Society/Aquaculture America event in Nevada in February. For the years we have participated in Aquaculture America, there has always been an Aquaponics session.

6) In June our Organic Committee Director, Brian Filipowich, participated in the 2016 Conference for the International Society for Ecological Economics. He was able to get the good word out about the benefits of Aquaponics, as well as make contacts in the DC area for future collaboration. The Aquaponics Association was also tapped to participate in the Nevada Economic Development Conference in Reno, helping form a vision for how agribusiness could move forward in that booming but arid state.

7) In August members of the Aquaponics Association participated in the Aquaculture Innovation Workshop and International Recirculating Aquaculture Conference in Roanoke, Virginia. There is great research going on regarding ways to further improve the productivity of aquaponic systems. We are particularly excited about research that has been conducted by the folks at Lucky Clay into the factors required for establishing an economically sustainable Aquaponics business. 

7) Finally, the 2016 Aquaponics Association Conference in Austin, Texas, is fast approaching. Adam Cohen and Dr. George Brooks have been doing a great job pulling this conference together and getting the word out. In particular, they have been able to reduce the cost of the conference by so much that even late registration is less than $400 - nearly as inexpensive as early bird registration had been for earlier conferences.

Moving forward, there are some recommendations we'd like our membership to consider:

A) Both the World Aquaculture Society and the US Aquaculture Society have fully elected boards, and they elect a person to shadow the President of the organization for a year, who subsequently becomes the President. The current process for the Aquaponics Association calls for regular elections without any guarantee of continuity, which has proven problematic in the past. It has been proposed that we adopt an elected board structure with built-in succession/mentoring, based on the World Aquaculture Society model. If such a recommendation were adopted, it wouldn't take effect until the 2017 elections.

B) Academics involved in aquaponics would benefit from having a society that allowed those with formal training to be recognized for their achievements. The Aquaponics Association would like to help support such a Society on behalf of the academic community. Such a society could also serve as an organization to enhance synergies between the various Aquaponics programs being established at colleges and universities around the world.

Sustainable Organics: Why Aquaponics and Hydroponics Make Sense

We in the Aquaponics Association encourage you to align yourselves with the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, which is working with us to fight exclusion of container-grown foods (e.g., aquaponics) from eligibility for organic certification.

Those who exclusively farm the land want aquaponics to be excluded from "organic." They believe that soil is required. They pretend their objection is merely to hydroponics, which they characterize as sterile and non-natural. But the proposed rule changes are not based in science, nor do they consider stewardship of scarce resources or social justice.

The Crops Subcommittee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is meeting this week and next week to consider recommendations to excluding "soil-less" growing from eligibility under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The formal proposal will likely be published in late September.

The USDA is seeking public comments for the fall NOSB meeting. The Aquaponics Association will be working with the Coalition for Sustainable Organics to develop a coherent and detailed set of responses.

Join us to keep aquaponics organic!

So far the Coalition for Sustainable Organics has over 50 growers and concerned citizens who have already submitted comments in support of organics including container production systems, such as aquaponics.

Comments like these remind the USDA and the NOSB that container production systems are sustainable, legitimate and sensible, and that it is important to preserve our systems as part of the organic family. Your voice has power to make a major impact with the people deciding the fate of the industry right now.

If you have commented already and reached out to your network, thank you. If you or your network have not yet submitted comments, please do so this week!

You can submit comments by clicking on the following link and then following the instructions.

Below is editorial content you can adapt as you wish to inform your comment:

Dear National Organic Standards Board (NOSB),

I urge you to continued allowing organic certification for container and greenhouse growing methods.  Denying container-based agriculture this important designation will stifle innovation precisely when it is most critical that America improves water stewardship and ability to produce food in urban environments.

Limited Water Resources

Pressure on limited water resources is more severe than ever before.  Soil-based agriculture is responsible for the vast majority of fresh water use in America. Soil-based farming consumes as much as 1000% more water than state-of-the-art container-based methods. Meanwhile the majority of Americans live in regions where water is being depleted at unsustainable rates.

In 2013 the National Academy of Sciences indicated that the High Plains aquifer was already depleted by 30%, with depletion expected to approach 70% within 50 years if current practices continue. Natural replenishment of the aquifer would take hundreds of years, with estimates ranging up to 1,300 years. The mid-west states affected by depletion of the High Plains aquifer are home to nearly 70 million Americans.

California currently supplies 50% of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States, with agriculture consuming the vast majority of fresh water resources. Yet drought and soil-based agricultural practices have depleted California's fresh water resources by 11 trillion gallons as of 2014, with over 7 trillion gallons of that depleted from California's aquifers. The magnitude of this depletion was quantified by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission. Nor is California unique.

In 2014 Scripps Institute of Oceanography published a study showing that the western United States had lost a total of 63 trillion gallons of water since 2003. GPS measurements throughout the west show the loss of water is causing the land to rise up. The pervasive drought conditions threaten millions of acres of farmland and the economy where over 75 million Americans live.

In 2015 NASA documented the shocking depletion of global groundwater resources, finding that 21 of the worlds 37 largest aquifers are experiencing unsustainable depletion. The Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains aquifer, supporting over 120 million Americans, is among those where use far outstrips natural rates of recharge.

The Northeastern US, home of many of those passionately advocating withdrawal of organic status for container-grown crops, is not experiencing water stress. Farmers in the Northeast are neighbors to fewer than 60 million individuals, less than 20% of the US population in 2015.

Further, agricultural production in the Northeast only supplies a small percentage of the total food needs of Northeast residents. Cornell University researcher, Christian Peters, documented New York State's food production capacity from 2006 to 2009. New York farmers were able to feed less than 35% of state residents, with New York city residents receiving only 2% of their food needs from farmers in New York state.

Food Deserts and Social Justice

New York City residents only obtain 2% of their food from New York state farmers, according to research performed by Christian Peters at Cornell University. Tourists to New York City see an abundance of small groceries with fresh food. But in 2008 the New York Times publicized that millions of city residents have adeuqate access to fresh food resources. A comprehensive analysis of the entire city demonstrated in 2008 that 750,000 residents lived more than five blocks from a grocery of supermarket. A "Supermarket Need Index" showed significant patches of under-served neighborhoods in Staten Island, the north of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. These under-served neighborhoods correlated strongly with neighborhoods with as many as 25% reporting they had eaten no fruits or vegetables the prior day. The United Hospital Fund demonstrated that the neighborhoods that typically didn't eat fruits and vegetables suffered the highest rates of obesity and diabetes.

New York City graphically demonstrates the health burden imposed on the poor in urban environments. This is America's problem, with over 60% of Americans living in cities and over 80% of Americans living in an "urban" environment.

Urban environments pose significant barriers to organic soil-based farming. Land is rarely available in large enough plots to sustain a profitable soil-based farm. Available plots are often contaminated by urban byproducts that make the land under-productive and inappropriate for safe food production, much less organic food production. It is only through use of container and greenhouse agricultural methods that food production density and safety can be achieved in urban environments.

To categorically deny organic certification to container-based agriculture will further disadvantage the only forms of agriculture appropriate for the neighborhoods where 80% of Americans live. While not every urban farmer will seek organic certification, all container-based agriculture will benefit from the ability of the few to innovate with the approbation of that sector of the public that desires organic food and can afford the time and money associated with avoiding non-organic foods.

Organic Branding

The hard-working organic farmer growing crops in the ground deserves a label that conveys the visceral appeal soil-grown crops have for many consumers.

However not every consumer who purchases organic produce and products is primarily motivated by the nostalgia for traditionally-grown crops. Some consumers primarily desire food that is locally grown and free of pesticides and antibiotics. They want food that is sustainable and safe for their loved ones. The precise method by which this food is produced is of secondary importance to them.

Rather than restrict Americans to only those organic crops grown in soil, we suggest that organic labeling be updated to honor soil-grown crops in a separate category from crops grown using container-based methods like aquaponics and hydroponics. This will allow soil-based agriculture to enjoy exclusive access to those who feel passionately about soil-based farming, without denying innovative sustainable agriculture access to those customers who wish "organic" food by whatever method excludes unnatural pesticides, antibiotics, and nutrients.

Sterile Food Production and Other Myths

It appears one objection to container-based agriculture is the belief that soil itself is uniquely capable of supporting soil enrichment and providing plant roots robust microbial environments.

Despite the penchant for hydroponic growers to frequently bleach their systems between crops, studies show hydroponically-grown plants do benefit from significant microbial synergy in the root zone. A unit volume of hydroponic solution contains a similar number of bacteria as the same volume of compost (1 million bacteria per ml in hydroponic solution versus 100,000-10 million bacteria seen in a ml of various composts). Mycorrhizal fungi thrive in hydroponics and aquaponics, serving the same role in water and nutrient absorption for container-grown plants that the do in soil-grown plants. Studies show the presence of beneficial bacteria and funghi in a relatively sterile hydroponic system can increase in a single day to the level of beneficial bacteria seen in compost. Whether plants are grown in soil or solution, they gather around themselves the beneficial bacteria they need to thrive.

While hydroponic nutrient solution may not be used directly to enrich local soils, the bulk of plant material derives from oxygen, and carbon from the air combined with sunshine and water. The plant material that is not sold can be composted to enrich the soils in the vicinity of the hydroponic farm.

In the case of aquaponics, the bulk of required plant nutrients are naturally produced as a result of fish waste within a container-based recirculating system. Aquaponics produces fish emulsion as well as excess plant material, providing for significant enrichment of soils in the vicinity of an aquaponic farm.

Advocates of soil-based agriculture perceive the stewardship they exercise over the soils of their agricultural holdings. By contrast, they do not see the benefit containers provide to soil and biodiversity.

However, it is not so much that containers enrich the soil immediately beneath them, but that containers permit greater production within the same area. Turning this around, this means for the same amount of food produce, more land is freed up for the biodiversity of nature itself.

One final myth that should be addressed is the idea that organic soil-based agriculture does not disturb natural ecosystems. C&A is one of the world's largest retailers of organic cotton apparel, and desired to demonstrate the value of organic cotton production in terms of water footprint. Specifically, they wanted to show that conventional methods of producing cotton created a vast pollution burden compared to organic production. In the draft version of their report, C&A asserted that there was no pollution burden associated with organic cotton production. When the draft report was presented to the Water Footprint Network (formerly a branch of UNESCO), the water footprint scientists corrected the understandable error. Whether fertilizer is synthetic or organic, damaging components of fertilizer leach into local waters at a rate of 10% (for nitrate) and 2% (for phosphorus). The nutrients cause eutrophication in local waters, producing algae blooms, oxygen deprivation, and fish kills. The additional pollution burden associated with pesticides and other chemicals may be 5 times greater than the pollution associated with nutrients, making organic production clearly better than conventional production. But it is not true that soil-based organic production does not harm to natural ecosystems in the vicinity of a farm.

In comparison to the natural nutrient leachate associated with soil production, proper container-based agriculture minimizes or eliminates the leaching of nutrients into the surrounding environment, particularly sensitive water resources. This is a reason that use of aquaponics, for example, is exploding in the Pacific and Asia. Purity of local water resources is of paramount importance to those living on islands. Pacific Rim nations also lack the abundant per capita land resources possessed by the continental United States. The ability to produce significant food resources on limited land resources without contaminating fragile water resources is attractive to people who live in such a constrained environment.

Intent of the Organic Movement

The original intent of the organic movement was to use biology to cycle natural inputs while avoiding prohibited substances.

An attempt to exclude container-based agriculture from the organic umbrella not only hurts container-based agriculture industries, it risks harming the relevance of the organic movement itself.

Edwin Markham penned the famous epigram title "Outwitted":

He drew a circle that shut me out--

     Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

     We drew a circle that took him in!

Were the NOSB and NOP to exclude container-based agriculture from inclusion in the organic movement, there would be a perception by some that the move had more to do with protectionism that either science or sustainability.

Further, there is the question of where the exclusionary circle would be drawn. Would traditional soil crops that are transplanted to containers and grown to maturity in greenhouses be considered soil crops or container-grown crops? There are vast numbers of organic farmers that take advantage of such time-honored production techniques. To exclude them from the organic movement would be damaging to the organic infrastructure of farmers and food production businesses that can currently tout the organic label. To include them while excluding other container-based agricultural methods would be patently unfair.

Also worth noting is the number of organic products that are not grown in soil. Seaweed and kelp come to mind. Microgreens and sprouts are not grown in soil. Spirulina is an algae that isn't grown in soil. Would these nutrient rich products be excluded from the organic movement? If not, on what rational basis would it make sense to exclude container-based agricultural products if these water-grown agricultural products are accorded organic status?

Process Foul

For those who have followed the history of the recent USDA Organic Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force, it is clear that appropriate processes were not followed. The Task Force was populated by a mix of scientists and long-time organic advocates. However the timeframe the task force had been promised to develop the report was foreshortened. The number of in-person meetings was cut from two to one. The report that was issued did not contain concurrence signatures from all members of the task force, notably omitting scientists specializing in hydroponics and aquaponics.

Rather than developing refined standards for organic container-based agriculture, the issued report relied on opinion and pseudo-science to argue that container-based agriculture should be excluded from eligibility for organic certification. The lack of probity reflected in the report has been shocking to long-time observers of the organic movement. Scientists attempting to advance innovations that can promote sustainable agriculture and urban crop production have been thoroughly disheartened by the unprofessional and unscientific black-balling on the part of those insisting ground-based soil farming must be the basis for organic certification.

Americans have a right to government that governs in the best interest of all. While not everyone will be pleased by the final position taken by government, it is incumbent on the National Organic Program to base its determination regarding container-based agriculture on science and the public benefit. Protectionist cronyism ought not be the basis for changing organic standards in a way that damages public health, prohibits wise stewardship of natural resources, and flies in the face of the original intent of the organic movement.

In Conclusion

I urge you to retain container-based agriculture as part of the suite of growing methods considered eligible for organic certification. To do otherwise flies in the face of scientific fact, damages national food security, and panders to a minority that is not affected by water deficits and urban conditions, each affecting over 80% of Americans in their different ways.

Should the matter of organic certification for hydroponics and aquaponics be raised during the fall NOSB meeting, I urge that the recommendation be limited to differentiating organic labeling for soil-based agriculture versus organic labeling for hydroponics, organic labeling for aquaponics, and organic labeling for container-based soil agriculture. In that vein, organic labeling for crops that can't be grown in soil should be identified if labeling is differentiated.

Regards/Sincerely/Very Truly Yours/etc.,

[your signature]

Keeping Aquaponics Organic

The National Organic Standards Board meets in November 2016 to discuss excluding aquaponics and hydroponics as "organic"

The National Organic Standards Board meets in November 2016 to discuss excluding aquaponics and hydroponics as "organic"

From the desk of Brian Filipowich, Committee Chair for the Aquaponics Association Organics Committee:

Dear Aquaponics Association Member:

We write to inform you that the Aquaponics Association has formed an Organics Committee to represent our industry in the National Organics Program (NOP) deliberations as to whether aquaponics food production will remain eligible for organic certification. Below is information about the Committee, and information about the current state of NOP deliberations.

Committee Membership
Brian Filipowich, Director of Programs and Policies, the Aquaponics Association
Meg Stout, Chairman, the Aquaponics Association
Sarah Taber, Director of Food Safety, the Aquaponics Association
Rob Nash, Owner/Operator, Austin and HannaLeigh Farms
Cissy Bowman, Founder, Indiana Certified Organic; Member of Certified Naturally Grown’s Aquaponics Standards Advisory Committee
Joe Schram, Commercial Aquaponic Farmer

Committee Operation
The Organics Committee will consider matters relating to aquaponics producers’ eligibility for organic certification and recommend actions to the Aquaponics Association Board. The Association Board will ultimately decide what actions to take.

Current State of Deliberations
In 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended prohibiting “hydroponic and aeroponic” systems from organic certification due to their “exclusion of soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems”. Such a rule would apply to aquaponics as well. Research indicates that beneficial bacteria are abundant on the roots of hydroponic and aquaponic plants, which should satisfy the requirement for soil-plant ecology. The movement to ban “soil-less” from organic is still being pushed by a group called Keep the Soil in Organic (

Despite the NOSB’s recommendation, the NOP did not take action and aquaponics and hydroponics have still been organic-eligible. (The NOSB is an advisory body to the NOP)

The NOSB is revisiting the recommendation to ban soil-less systems. To inform this decision-making, the NOP appointed a Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force. The Task Force just issued a report, which can be found here. In general, the report was favorable to aquaponics and hydroponics retaining organic eligibility. However, that does not mean the NOSB cannot choose its own course of action. The NOSB is expected to consider public comment on this issue at their Fall 2016 meeting to be held November 16-18 in St. Louis, Missouri. Written comments or requests for a 3-minute oral speaking slot (in person or via webinar) must be made by 11:59 pm ET on 26 October. Visit the NOSB Fall 2016 website for more information.

2016 Association Elections to be held in November 2016

As we have done in the past, the election of executive officers of the Aquaponics Association will be held in conjunction with our Aquaponics Association Conference.

There are four positions up for election this year, with a short description of each:

Chairman - responsible for the Association, approves all communications or designates spokespeople for the Association, term is two years

Vice Chairman - assists Chairman and replaces Chairman in case the Chairman cannot continue in the elected role due to permanent or temporary incapacity, desired term is two years, but will be one year for this term

Treasurer - handles financial reporting and replaces Chairman if neither the Chairman or Vice Chairman can continue in their elected role, term is one year

Secretary - handles minutes, membership list, and assists with website maintenance, term is one year

When the Aquaponics Association was formed, the bylaws were set up to require officers and voters be members in good standing of the Association for at least three months prior to the election. There was also a requirement that officers not be members of the same family or the same business. These two sets of requirements were put in place to prevent any particular business or family from gaining too much control over the Association, and to prevent an influx of late comers from radically shifting the leadership of the organization. 

As will be discussed in a future post, there has been a motion to change the rules to waive the three month requirement. However, in the case that motion isn't seconded or passed, the current bylaws require that an individual be a member in good standing (dues paid, not under disciplinary sanction) for at least three months prior to the election in question. As the voting for officers will close on November 12, 2016, those wishing to submit their candidacy for office or vote in the election must have paid the $45 membership fee by August 12, 2016. Donations of $45 or more will include an individual in member correspondence regarding elections.

For more information on the duties associated with each office, please see Article 12 of the Aquaponics Association Bylaws.

Five Secrets for Success

Five Secrets for Success

We recently got an e-mail from someone putting together a business plan for a commercial Aquaponics business. They asked the five most important success factors for a commercial Aquaponics Enterprise. Here's our answer -

#1) Have a rock solid business plan.

#2) Start small and grow as your market develops.

#3) Design for disaster up front.

#4) Don't buy a facility just because it already exists and is cheap.

#5) Install a proven system.

Download Free 'Aquaponics Decision Software' to Assist in Farm Management and Planning

The CTSA-funded project “Economic Analyses of Aquaponics Systems in Hawaii and Guam” is pleased to release Aquaponics Decision Software, a commercial aquaponics spreadsheet modeling system. The purpose of this generalized spreadsheet modeling system is to provide a user-friendly tool that can be used by existing and potential aquaponics producers as an on-farm decision aid, and by extension and research personnel to identify key areas where operations can be improved in order to sustain the profitability of aquaponics production.