Articles

Aquaponics in Serbia

Aquaponics is a small but growing club. This week Nemanja shared with us how he is a part of the Aquaponics community. It’s always great to learn about one another.
“ My name is Nemanja Živić, I am 27 years old and currently I am working as Technical Support Engineer for CHPs on Biogas in Serbia. During the Covid-19 quarantine period I finally made my first baby steps into aquaponics. For years I always read interesting news about aquaponics and I was always fascinated with it. During quarantine I realized I have enough time to make my micro ecosystem and test all the things I didn’t know. I Made my micro 10l system for less than 20€ with some of the things I already had in my house. This is the best way to step into aquaponics for people that are interested in it but never tried, just like me. You will maybe fail in the beginning but never stop trying. After all, like you can see in the pictures, all you need is a small aquarium, plastic grow bed, water pump and oxygen pump.
In Serbia there are not many people that have even heard about aquaponics right now. In the whole country you can probably count the number of active systems with fingers on both hands.
This is my first system and it has only one fish (koi) and now that he is getting bigger, this small aquarium is too small for him. I am already planning a new one that I will finish soon and it will not be simple in design. The goal is to have a big enough system that I could profit from. I would like to make this hobby into my future job.
As a renewable engineer I have to say aquaponics as it is right now has something that is overlooked by many. Currently I am also working on a study that can make the system way more efficient and cost effective. It is easy and simple to say it but I will need a lot of research to finish this study and a lot of experiments in the coming years. In this way aquaponics can shape our world being a renewable way of our food production and have a big impact on our world with all the benefits it already has.”
Nemanja’s Socials
(Linkedin – nemanja)

Aquaponic Growers Eligible for Coronavirus Assistance

Multiple USDA representatives assured the Aquaponics Association that aquaponics operations producing qualified crops are eligible for financial support through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The Deadline to apply is August 28, 2020. Growers are also eligible for Small Business Administration Programs.

 

By Thomas Wheet and Brian Filipowich

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the American agricultural industry in unprecedented ways. Farmers have watched harvests spoil, been forced to destroy crops, and have euthanized livestock due to the shifts in consumer behavior. 

The USDA created the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to assist farms that have suffered economically due to the outbreak.

We reached out to the USDA to inquire about aquaponic growers’ eligibility for CFAP and received encouraging, yet somewhat inconclusive, responses. While aquaponics is not explicitly highlighted as an eligible growing method for CFAP, numerous USDA representatives assured our policy team that aquaponic operations producing qualified crops could receive financial support through the program. Because funding decisions will ultimately be conducted at the county level, both the Aquaponics Association and USDA personnel strongly encourage any aquaponics organization to reach out to its county’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to confirm that the organization meets all criteria required to receive support before completing the application process.

  • Deadline to apply: The USDA is accepting applications until August 28, 2020. Make sure to check with your FSA at your local USDA Service Center for any questions regarding the application process. 
  • Who can apply for CFAP: 
    • Producers of eligible commodities who have experienced a 5% or greater price decline due to COVID-19.
    • Individuals and/or legal entities that average an adjusted gross income of less than $900,000 in 2016, 2017, 2018. Make sure to check the CFAP website for additional eligibility guidelines. 
  • Eligible crops: Non-specialty crops, wool, dairy, livestock, and specialty crops are all eligible for CFAP. For a complete list, make sure to take a look at the CFAP website.

General Business Assistance Programs
In addition to agriculture-specific economic assistance, the Federal Government has augmented general economic relief programs so that they also apply to agricultural. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program offers $10,000 loan advances for businesses experiencing a temporary loss in revenue and have less than 500 employees. The loan advances do not need to be repaid.

The USDA website notes: “For the first time, agricultural enterprises are now eligible for the disaster assistance from EIDL. As a result of the unprecedented legislation, American farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural businesses will now have access to emergency working capital.” The website also specifically notes that “aquaculture” businesses are eligible. Eligibility for CFAP is unaffected by participation in the PPP or EIDL. 

Also from the SBA, the Payroll Protection Program offers guaranteed loans to support the payroll of businesses with less than 500 employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately the PPP deadline is June 30, 2020 (the day of this posting).

What is the Economic Effect of COVID on Aquaponics?

Surveys have indicated that COVID19 has hurt commercial aquaponic growers. See: 1) Survey Results; COVID’s Effect on U.S. Aquaponics; and 2) Commercial Growers Hit Hard by Coronavirus.

We must do more to support commercial aquaponic growers during the pandemic so that we don’t set back our most efficient, sustainable form of agriculture.

Are you a grower that receives, has applied, or plans to apply for economic assistance through these government programs? Please complete this quick survey to let us know your experience, and if you have any questions or comments on the process.

Help us Fight for Aquaponics!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

USDA Powerpoint for $3M Urban Ag Grants

 

Yesterday, June 3, the USDA hosted a webinar on $3 million in competitive grants from the new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. The USDA states: “The competitive grants will support the development of urban agriculture and innovative production projects through two categories, Planning Projects and Implementation Projects. USDA will accept applications on Grants.gov until midnight July 6, 2020.”

The webinar included a powerpoint on the grants and grant process.

Click here to view: USDA Urban Ag Grants Powerpoint.

The USDA states that the grants will fund: “Activities that encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices, including community gardens and farms located in urban areas, suburbs, and urban clusters; rooftop farms, outdoor vertical production, and green walls; indoor farms, greenhouses, and high-tech vertical technology farms; hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic farm facilities; and other innovations in agricultural production.”

Let’s make sure some of this funding is directed towards aquaponics. Please let us know if you have questions about the grants or would like to collaborate with the Aquaponics Association on a grant proposal.

Contact: community@aquaponicsassociation.org

Do you want to help us promote aquaponics to the USDA and other policymakers?

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. One aspect of this Mission is representing aquaponics with policy-makers like the USDA, Congress, and food safety regulators. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause with a $60 Annual Membership.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new industries
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Please consider a General Membership to support aquaponics!

Weds June 3 USDA Webinar on $3M Urban / Innovative Ag Grants

This Wednesday, June 3 is the USDA’s webinar on the $3M in Urban and Innovative Agriculture grants! Let’s make sure funding is directed to aquaponics.

Click here: Register for June 3 USDA Urban / Innovative Ag Grants Webinar. (Scroll to bottom of page under “Additional Resources”.)

Background article from May 7, 2020:

USDA Launches Innovative Ag Office – Announces $3M Grants
By Thomas Wheet and Brian Filipowich

The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill charged the USDA with creating the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (“Urban Ag Office”). The Farm Bill noted that urban agriculture can “contribute to the revitalization of abandoned or underutilized urban land, [bring] social and economic benefits to urban communities, and [create] beneficial impacts on the urban landscape.

After months of navigating the Congressional appropriations process, the necessary funding for the Urban Ag Office was finally signed into law in December 2019.

The Aquaponics Association reached out to the leadership of the Urban Ag Office and Congressional Offices to get a better understanding of the policies, funding opportunities, and timelines that will affect aquaponic growers.

Here is the Urban Ag Office’s Statement to the Aquaponics Association:

“Thank you for your interest in our efforts to stand up the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. The Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service was delegated responsibility to implement the 2018 Farm Bill provisions on behalf of USDA and I have been designated as the Interim Director for the Office. We are working collaboratively with other USDA agencies to ensure they each have an equal voice in establishing the office, consistent with the 2018 Farm Bill provisions, and they are able to contribute in areas that fall within their respective missions and areas of expertise.

“As you are aware, the 2018 Farm Bill authorized $25 million annually for the Office. However, the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriation was capped at $5 million and limits the degree to which we can implement the authorized activities. We are moving forward with standing up the office and the external federal advisory committee that serves to provide recommendations to the Secretary, forging a path to establish the urban/suburban pilot county committees, and developing announcements for grants and agreements provided for in the Farm Bill.

“We are planning a series of webinars that will be announced soon that are designed to provide interested persons and stakeholders information about the establishment of the office and the functions we anticipate implementing. We will ensure we keep your contact information on file so you receive information about these webinars.

Then, yesterday, as we were about to publish this article, the USDA released a new, $3 million in grants for urban agriculture initiatives that will increase food access, agricultural education, and innovative production methods within urban environments. Stay tuned for much more information on these grants in the coming weeks, and mark your calendars for a June 3, 2020 USDA webinar on the grant process.

Click to see the USDA Press Release on the $3 Million Urban Ag Grants for more information and webinar registration.

Aquaponics is already taking the urban agriculture and controlled environmental agriculture industries by storm. While accounting for $19 million in 2020, the market is expected to climb to $46 million by the end of 2026 (that’s a CAGR of over 11.5%).  This potential impact, however, could be greatly increased with federal guidance, funding, and business support that the Urban Ag Office is intended to provide.

The following list highlights several forms of support that the Aquaponics Association will continue to advocate for on behalf of the entire aquaponics industry: 

  • Funding: Due to high startup costs, aquaponics can be unattainable for many individuals and/or communities looking to begin an operation. We will continue to advocate the new Office to support aquaponics initiatives with appropriate levels of funding needed to develop adequate systems that will lead to successful operations (both for non-profit and for-profit organizations).
  • Clarity surrounding policies: Though widely understood as beneficial, aquaponics falls within an agricultural ‘no-mans-land’ surrounding guidelines at the local, state, and federal level. This grey-area is partially because aquaculture, food crops, and other crops all fall under different regulatory regimes. Basically the big bureaucracy gets confused and can’t function, like a deer in the headlights. Whether in regards to food safety, greenhouse sterility, organic certification, etc., the Aquaponics Association will promote policies that match the operational realities faced by aquaponic growers across the country.
  • Defining value: Beyond the monetary value surrounding the produce and protein sustainably grown in aquaponic operations, there are numerous social benefits to localizing food production in urban spaces. From local job creation and educational opportunities about agriculture/nutrition, to decreasing municipal carbon footprints associated with the traditional agricultural system, the Aquaponics Association will work to ensure that Congress and the USDA fully grasp the true value of aquaponic growing.

Are there other items that you’d like to make sure that we address directly with Congress and/or the USDA? If so, please provide feedback.

Read Also: USDA Launches Voluntary Aquaponics G.A.P. Food Safety Program

Help us Fight for Aquaponics!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

Survey Results: COVID’s Effect on U.S. Aquaponics

Researchers from Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and Engle-Stone Aquatic$ conducted a formal survey to determine the effect of COVID19 on U.S. aquaculture, aquaponics, and allied businesses, see: Commercial Aquaculture Survey Results.

And the researchers parsed out the data for aquaponics: COVID19 Aquaponics Survey Results.

Background

On March 23rd, 2020, Virginia Tech Seafood AREC and The Ohio State University Extension initiated an online survey of the U.S. aquaculture, aquaponics, and allied businesses. This survey was designed to capture and quantify the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the aquaculture, aquaponics, and allied industries. The survey will be distributed at the conclusion of every quarter for 2020, to attempt to capture the evolving impacts of COVID-19 over time.

 

Aquaponics AI is your first cloud-based dashboard for Aquaponics

Check out Aquaponics AI, an Affiliate Member of the Aquaponics Association. The Aquaponics Association Affiliate Program allows aquaponics businesses and institutions to spread the latest products, services, classes, and events!

Aquaponics AI is a cloud-based software using a data and intelligence-driven approach to growing with Aquaponics for the small and large farm.  We provide you with technology to unleash your aquaponic superpowers.  We have calculators, resources, metric tracking, system insights, crop/fish/disease libraries, cycling guidance, customized maintenance checklists, and *unlimited* projects!
 
It’s finally time to ditch the pen and paper for digital logging and to gain instant and valuable insights into your system.
And check out the story of our aquaponic operation during COVID19: Remote Aquaponics during the Lockdown in Amman, Jordan
Contact: Jonathan Reyes & Daniel Robards at connect@aquaponics.ai

Ed’s Heartbreaking Aquaponics Move; Classroom to Wine Cellar

By Ed Tivnan, Director of STEM Aquaponics
Aquaponics Association

On Monday, March 23, 2020, the faculty at the Tremont High School in Concord, Massachusetts got the closure orders from the Governor that our school building would be closing by noon the next day. So, I had 24 hours to disassemble and move out the best example of natural sustainability that could be found in any classroom in the country. For all the right reasons, yet it still broke my heart that our “Aquaponics in the Classroom” learning experience would end this way.

Classroom aquaponics record-keeping chart and graphs

Six weeks prior, starting in January 2020, my Tremont High School Biology students had been daily enjoying, while learning, Organic Gardening, Water Quality Testing, Teamwork and Next Generation Biological Practices, Big Ideas and Connections. They started off class by conducting 10 water quality tests: Air, Water, and Soil Temperatures, Nitrates, pH, Hardness, Alkalinity, Ammonia and Dissolved Oxygen.

One student was designated the Lead Scientist and lead the group of testing students and entered all information on a shared Google spreadsheet (See Spreadsheet). At the same time each student planted their own vegetable pots of Carrots, Broccoli, Kale, and Peas. They were deeply engaged in both the physical and scientific aspects of organic gardening. During weekly lab periods, students discussed trends in the water testing data to determine whether these trends were healthy or unhealthy for the three Keystone Communities of Plant, Fish and Microbes. At the same time students weekly sketched and journaled about the growth patterns of their individual plants. While also learning to take care the Aquaponics Unit “biological needs” by daily feeding the fish, weekly filling the fish tank when the water was low and pruning plants that needed attention.

As an educator I had a living classroom unit that contained all five major taxonomic kingdoms (Plants, Animals, Bacteria, Archaebacteria and Fungi) which I regularly incorporated into my Next Generation Science Standard Biology lesson plans. Furthermore, the entire school benefited by being entertained by the fish and the lush greenery in the wintertime.

So, when the order came to evacuate the school building, I had to reluctantly “think quickly on my feet”. My godson’s wife had asked me to build her an aquaponics unit in their home 2 months prior to the Governor’s order. Subsequently after finally disassembling the aquaponics unit that afternoon, I transferred the unit to their house in Newton New Hampshire. They had the perfect spot in their cellar, an abandoned wine cellar room. In a matter of three weeks the unit was reassembled, water was again circulating, most of the classroom plants were replanted, and fish were swimming again in fish tank, Subsequently we had successfully gone from a “An Aquaponics in the Classroom” to an “Aquaponics in the House.” Stayed tune for updates.

Do you want to write a short article to share your personal story?

Do you have an interesting story about how COVID-19 is affecting your aquaponics? Do you want to share it with the aquaponics community on the Aquaponics Association’s social media?

Are you expanding your system? Changing what you grow for friends and family? Sourcing fish in your local pond? Instructing the Elementary School maintenance staff via telephone how to buffer pH?

Tell us in under 500 words and please include at least two pictures of your aquaponic setup. We will post your stories. Your stories help us all reach new audiences for aquaponics!

 

Help us Fight for Aquaponics!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

USDA Launches Innovative Ag Office – Announces $3M Grants

By Thomas Wheet and Brian Filipowich

The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill charged the USDA with creating the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (“Urban Ag Office”). The Farm Bill noted that urban agriculture can “contribute to the revitalization of abandoned or underutilized urban land, [bring] social and economic benefits to urban communities, and [create] beneficial impacts on the urban landscape.

After months of navigating the Congressional appropriations process, the necessary funding for the Urban Ag Office was finally signed into law in December 2019.

The Aquaponics Association reached out to the leadership of the Urban Ag Office and Congressional Offices to get a better understanding of the policies, funding opportunities, and timelines that will affect aquaponic growers.

Here is the Urban Ag Office’s Statement to the Aquaponics Association:

“Thank you for your interest in our efforts to stand up the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. The Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service was delegated responsibility to implement the 2018 Farm Bill provisions on behalf of USDA and I have been designated as the Interim Director for the Office. We are working collaboratively with other USDA agencies to ensure they each have an equal voice in establishing the office, consistent with the 2018 Farm Bill provisions, and they are able to contribute in areas that fall within their respective missions and areas of expertise.

“As you are aware, the 2018 Farm Bill authorized $25 million annually for the Office. However, the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriation was capped at $5 million and limits the degree to which we can implement the authorized activities. We are moving forward with standing up the office and the external federal advisory committee that serves to provide recommendations to the Secretary, forging a path to establish the urban/suburban pilot county committees, and developing announcements for grants and agreements provided for in the Farm Bill.

“We are planning a series of webinars that will be announced soon that are designed to provide interested persons and stakeholders information about the establishment of the office and the functions we anticipate implementing. We will ensure we keep your contact information on file so you receive information about these webinars.

Then, yesterday, as we were about to publish this article, the USDA released a new, $3 million in grants for urban agriculture initiatives that will increase food access, agricultural education, and innovative production methods within urban environments. Stay tuned for much more information on these grants in the coming weeks, and mark your calendars for a June 3, 2020 USDA webinar on the grant process.

Click to see the USDA Press Release on the $3 Million Urban Ag Grants for more information and webinar registration.

Aquaponics is already taking the urban agriculture and controlled environmental agriculture industries by storm. While accounting for $19 million in 2020, the market is expected to climb to $46 million by the end of 2026 (that’s a CAGR of over 11.5%).  This potential impact, however, could be greatly increased with federal guidance, funding, and business support that the Urban Ag Office is intended to provide.

The following list highlights several forms of support that the Aquaponics Association will continue to advocate for on behalf of the entire aquaponics industry: 

  • Funding: Due to high startup costs, aquaponics can be unattainable for many individuals and/or communities looking to begin an operation. We will continue to advocate the new Office to support aquaponics initiatives with appropriate levels of funding needed to develop adequate systems that will lead to successful operations (both for non-profit and for-profit organizations).
  • Clarity surrounding policies: Though widely understood as beneficial, aquaponics falls within an agricultural ‘no-mans-land’ surrounding guidelines at the local, state, and federal level. This grey-area is partially because aquaculture, food crops, and other crops all fall under different regulatory regimes. Basically the big bureaucracy gets confused and can’t function, like a deer in the headlights. Whether in regards to food safety, greenhouse sterility, organic certification, etc., the Aquaponics Association will promote policies that match the operational realities faced by aquaponic growers across the country.
  • Defining value: Beyond the monetary value surrounding the produce and protein sustainably grown in aquaponic operations, there are numerous social benefits to localizing food production in urban spaces. From local job creation and educational opportunities about agriculture/nutrition, to decreasing municipal carbon footprints associated with the traditional agricultural system, the Aquaponics Association will work to ensure that Congress and the USDA fully grasp the true value of aquaponic growing.

Are there other items that you’d like to make sure that we address directly with Congress and/or the USDA? If so, please provide feedback.

Read Also: USDA Launches Voluntary Aquaponics G.A.P. Food Safety Program

Help us Fight for Aquaponics!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

 

USDA Voluntary G.A.P. Program

By Tawnya Sawyer

The USDA recently recognized aquaponics under their voluntary Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program through the Specialty Crops Inspection (SCI) division. This program is in its pilot phase for audits and certification of selected aquaponics farms through the end of 2020. Having a set of guidelines for aquaponics helps to better align with the specifics of growing in soil-less media, using filtered fish waste for nutrient solution, and bio-integration of fish and plants in a growing facility.
Prior to this pilot program, aquaponic farm audits were subject to standard GAP guidelines designed for produce crops grown in a field or cultivated in a greenhouse. This created challenges for auditors trying to modify or interpret guidelines for other growing methods that don’t align or apply to aquaponics. By launching this pilot program, the USDA has indicated that aquaponics is viewed as a commercially viable industry worthy of its own audit guidelines and food safety certification. Find out more about the USDA’s Aquaponics GAP Pilot Program here.

 

Help us Fight for Aquaponics!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

 

Hawaii Growers Donate Tilapia to the Homeless

By Vernon Byrd, 
University of the Nations, Kona Hawaii Campus

At the University of the Nations, Kona, Hawaii campus, we normally provide lettuce, bunching onions, basil, kale and parsley for the campus cafeteria. Although we normally produce about 800 heads of lettuce per week, the cafeteria uses more than that, but, we have had a surplus since all the students and most staff left the island due to Covid issues.

Some staff with their families, mostly from countries closed to travel, remain on the campus and we provide produce for them. We also are able to provide produce to the homeless feeding program and we will supplement what we have been giving them with some tilapia, which are ready for harvest.

Do you want to write a short article to share your personal story?

Do you have an interesting story about how COVID-19 is affecting your aquaponics? Do you want to share it with the aquaponics community on the Aquaponics Association’s social media?

Are you expanding your system? Changing what you grow for friends and family? Sourcing fish in your local pond? Instructing the Elementary School maintenance staff via telephone how to buffer pH?

Tell us in under 500 words and please include at least two pictures of your aquaponic setup. We will post your stories. Your stories help us all reach new audiences for aquaponics!

Help us spread the message!

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

 

Home Aquaponics is Expanding During the Lockdown

(Aquaponics Victory Garden from Dr. George Brooks)

By Brian Filipowich

We recently sent a short, informal survey asking how the lockdown conditions are affecting aquaponic growers. This article provides the results for home / personal aquaponic growers. We got about 30 responses in this category. (Also see the results for Commercial Aquaponic Growers.)

Survey respondents indicate that the lockdown conditions are giving them more time to physically improve their systems, and to do more research to hike up the long and rewarding aquaponics learning curve. At the same time, personal growers are seeing increased value in growing large quantities of their own food.

Tawnya Sawyer from The Aquaponic Source stated that they have “seen an increase in home and hobby as well as farming customers who now have the time and energy to produce their own food. One of the most exciting things is that people who haven’t heard of aquaponics before are calling and looking to get started right away. They really love the idea that aquaponics is fish-powered, more natural than hydroponics, and more fun and easier than toiling in the soil.”

Several growers said the lockdown had no effect on their aquaponics. And zero respondents stated that the lockdown had negatively affected their growing. The one exception is possible supply shortages. One major theme among home growers is potential supply shortages, particularly for fish.

The lockdown conditions show us all how fragile the global food system can be. Aquaponics gives home growers the ability to produce large quantities of their own food and work towards food independence, even without access to soil. We will have to monitor supplies and make sure home growers have what they need to keep growing!

Here are quotes from home growers about how COVID has affected their aquaponics:

  • “We stocked up on feed, and the system is running well. We may run into supply issues down the road. Everything is healthy.” – Zack Walker
  • “I will be upgrading my system, building a greenhouse to give me more space to grow food for my extended family. I am also using my system to teach my grandkids about growing their own food.” – Black Hills Aquaponics
  • “I’ve planted fast crops for friends and family.” – Frank
  • “Personally I have a lot more time for my aquaponic system maintenance and upgrades since we can’t go to the college institute because of the outbreak. And also a lot more time to study about aquponics.” – Leon
  • “There are certain materials that are not readily available in my location , like bio balls, activated carbon bio rings and some other stuff. Unfortunately, imports are being restricted from China which is the source of my materials. This poses some threats to my aquaponic garden.” –Stephen P.
  • “Farming helps alleviate stress as always, but now I/we may be depending on my urban farm!” and “It’s hard to find fingerlings in Arizona.” – Paul
  • “The lockdown has given me a lot more time to focus on aquaponics.” – Barbara
  • “Our aquaponic system is a hobby/home system. It provides us with most of the green vegetables and tomatoes that we eat. We harvest two or three times a week for salads and cooking which keeps us out of the grocery store as much as would otherwise occur.” – Dennis Howard
  • “I have focused a lot more on the growing of my own food. It has always been a hobby for me and now we are ramping it up out of potential necessity.” – Chip Nelson
  • “We are witnessing more people expressing their interest with our aquaponics growing.” – Terence K.

RELATED — Read about Aquaponics Victory Gardens

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Learn more: General Membership

 

Food Safety and E. coli in Aquaponic and Hydroponic Systems

This document is The Aquaponics Association’s response to a recent publication on E. coli in Aquaponic and Hydroponic systems.

PDF Version: Food Safety and E. Coli in Aquaponic and Hydroponic Systems

April 27, 2020

By Tawnya Sawyer; Nick Savidov, PhD; George Pate; and Marc Laberge 

Overview of the Study

On April 6, 2020, Purdue Agriculture News published a story about a study related to the contamination risk of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in Aquaponic and Hydroponic production. The full study was published in MDPI Journal Horticulturae in January 2020.

Researchers conducted the study from December 2017 through February 2018. The Study consisted of side-by-side aquaponic and hydroponic systems in a controlled environment lab growing lettuce, basil, and tomatoes with tilapia. The purpose of the study was to identify the food safety risks associated with soilless systems. The study indicates that both the aquaponic and hydroponic systems contained Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at the time of sampling. It did not find the presence of Listeria spp., or Salmonella spp. 

The authors contend that the aquaponic system and specifically the fish feces were likely the sources of E. coli. However, we believe that there is no evidence to prove that this was the actual source of contamination since the authors admit traceback was not performed, and there were several other possible introductions.

The pathogen was present in the water and on the root system of the plants. The researchers did not detect it in the edible portion of the plants. However, if the water is positive for a contaminant, and it accidentally splashes onto the edible portion of the crop throughout its life, or during harvest, this could still result in a food safety concern.

History of E. coli in Soil-less growing systems 

Until now, researchers have only discovered environmental E. coli in soilless growing systems. It is essential to note that there are hundreds of types of non-fecal coliform bacteria in the air, water, soil, as well as the fecal coliform bacteria represented mostly by E.coli in the waste of all mammals, humans, and some birds. A vast majority of these coliforms are perfectly harmless.

The E. coli found in this Study — Shiga toxin-producing O157:H7 — historically has been associated with warm-blooded mammals, more specifically bovine fed corn in feedlots (Lim JY et al. 2007), as well as swine and turkeys. Further research must be performed to prove that cold-blooded, non-mammal aquatic species such as tilapia can harbor this strain of pathogenic E. coli. A wide group of studies, university professors and industry professionals currently refute the possibility that tilapia can harbor this strain. The lack of evidence detailing the ability of aquatic animals to harbor E. coli makes the fish contaminated with this specific strain of bacteria very rare and suspect.

Many foodborne illnesses from fresh produce such as romaine lettuces, green onions, herbs, and sprouts, are traced back to the soil; the irrigation water used in these crops (Solomon et al. 2002); the seed stock; or poor sanitation in handling facilities.

There are a wide variety of community and commercial aquaponic and hydroponic growing facilities that routinely perform pathogen testing and have not identified this pathogen present. If it was present, traceback procedures would be followed to identify and remove the source, as well as any necessary food safety precautions and recalls performed.

Our Position

The Aquaponic Association and its members agree that food safety and proper handling practices are critical to commercializing our industry and the safety of our customers. One thing that the study points out is that a contaminant can occur in a soilless system, which creates a potential food safety concern. We agree on this; however, we have numerous concerns with the procedures and statements made in the publication.

We have reached out to the professional investigator on this study Hye-Ji Kim to get answers to essential questions that the study publication does not adequately address. There are significant gaps and questions with the study.

 Concerns About the Study Findings and Publication 

Lack of Traceability

The study group is unsure how the pathogen was introduced into the two systems. They admit that no traceback was performed to identify the source of contamination. They speculate both in the study and in their email response that this pathogen was:

1) Accidentally introduced

2) That it is from the fish feces in the aquaponics system that splashed into the hydroponic system through the open top of the fish tank during feeding,

3) that it was from contaminated fish stock (which were provided by the Purdue Animal Sciences Research and Education Center)

4) That it was human contamination from visitors or operator handling issues.

A traceback was not conducted as it was not within the scope of the study (Kim personal communications). We disagree; the discovery of O157:H7 strain in the university greenhouse with the suspicion of fish being contaminated should have resulted in immediate action in order to track down the source of contamination and prevent infection of the university students and staff. Outside of a University setting, traceback would have been mandatory in a commercial facility. It is questionable that the University did not perform these procedures because it was “out of the scope of the study”.

Questioning Fish Feces as the Source of Contamination

Blaming fish feces as the contaminating source seems incredibly misleading when so many other options exist, and no traceback proved that as the source. The contents of the fish intestines were tested for the presence of E. coli, and none was found (Kim personal communications). It seems that if the fish does not have STEC E. coli inside its gut, then it is more likely the fish feces being positive would be related to the contaminated water that the feces was floating in.

In wild fish species, levels of E. coli appear to follow trends similar to ambient water and sediment concentrations; as concentrations in their environments rise, so do concentrations within the fish (Guillen et al., 2010).

Furthermore, it seems very suspect that a two-month-old system in a controlled environment lab could have been so quickly contaminated. It is well-known that E.coli cannot survive in a biologically-active environment, such as an anaerobic digester or aquaponic system (T.Gao et al., 2011). E. coli are outcompeted by other microorganisms, which adapted to survive in the environment outside animal guts much better than E. coli. Thus, E. coli O157:H7, which is specially adapted to live in cattle guts, will inevitably be replaced by other microorganisms.

As for the hydroponic system showing positive results, this also seems suspect if the nutrients were synthetic, as there would be very little chance for the E. coli to survive without a biological host or continuous contamination source being present. An accidental exposure in the hydroponic system would have become diluted over time, or the pathogen died off to the point that they would have been undetectable. The fact is the organic matter in hydroponics is virtually absent and, therefore, provides a poor environment for E. coli growth and propagation (Dankwa, 2019). Therefore. one would need a continuous source, not an accidental one (like splashing), in order to maintain the E. coli population in hydroponics.

Since both systems were contaminated, we suggest that there is a more likely common pathogen source that the researchers did not correctly identify and remove. The source of contamination could be from source water, filtering system, repurposed equipment, airborne in the greenhouse or HVAC system, human vector, lab equipment, the seed stock, nutrients, or other inputs.

The Purdue Animal Research and Education Center, where the researchers sourced the fish, is an operation that also has swine, cattle, and poultry production. Research suggests that pathogenic E. coli can travel 180 m through airborne exposure (Berry et al., 2015). Airborne exposure poses a more significant risk to controlled environments as pathogens can persist in the HVAC system (Riggio et al., 2019). STEC has the potential to live in dust particles for up to 42 weeks, which can act as a possible vector of contamination if there is a continuous source. Therefore, even a slight possibility of the pathogenic Shiga-producing O157:H7 strain of E. coli transfer from the Animal Research and Education Center resulting in the uncontrolled cross-contamination of other research labs and facilities certified below Biosafety level 2 not designed to work with the pathogenic bacteria would raise a serious concern about the existing safety practices (Boston University).

Lack of 3rd Party or Peer University Test Verification

It has also been recognized that there is a high frequency of false-positive signals in a real-time PCR-based “Plus/Minus” assay (Nowrouzian FL, et al., 2009). Hence the possibility that the PCR verification method may have resulted in inaccurate results. The pathogen was not verified by a 3rd party lab to be actual STEC E.coli O157:H7. Only positive or negative results were obtained for this study.

We recommend several other universities and third-party labs to run samples and validate the results. However, no samples have been provided, which may be impossible to obtain based on the study being conducted in early 2018. Without this verification, there are questions about the possibility of false-positives due to the presence of environmental E.coli, fecal coliforms, or a wide variety of other bacteria commonly found in nutrient-rich environments (Konstantinidis et al., 2011).

Impact of Sterilization

The study conclusion suggests that sterilization efforts are critical. “Our results indicated that contamination with bacterial pathogens could likely be reduced in aquaponic and hydroponic systems if the entire systems were thoroughly sanitized before each use and pathogen-free fish were used for the operation.” This statement is inaccurate and could be detrimental to proper food safety practices. As the microflora of the system develops, it creates an environment that can suppress phytopathogens (Bartelme et al., 2018) and other zoonotic pathogens as a result of antibiotic compounds released by beneficial bacteria (Compant et al., 2005). In Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), some microbial communities take over 15 years to develop (Bartelme et al., 2017), resulting in greater stability over time.

Many papers support this hypothesis with regards to probiotics in wastewater treatment, aquaculture, and hydroponics. Microbial community analysis also depicts a greater microbial diversity in aquaponics over decoupled or aquaculture systems (Eck et al., 2019), indicating a more significant potential for suppression of pathogens in coupled aquaponic systems over RAS or decoupled aquaponic system. No pathogens were discovered in a mature coupled aquaponics system during 18 years of continuous research in Canada since 2002 (Savidov, personal communications).

These findings support the argument that more biologically mature systems are less likely to develop pathogens and that periodic sanitation should not be done outside of initial start-up unless a zoonotic pathogen (Henderson 2008), is detected. If a pathogen is found, producers should follow proper sanitation and recall procedures.

Conclusion

Overall, this and other research into food safety are ongoing, and new information becomes available continuously to help shape the best practices for proper greenhouse management. As the Aquaponic Association, we hope to provide the most accurate and reliable resources for this purpose. At the same time, we hope to reduce the possibility of studies like this creating unnecessary fear, or unsubstantiated claims that could harm the growth of the aquaponic (and hydroponic) industry. When a document like this is published, it will be quoted by the media, and referenced in other studies as if it is an absolute. Other research must be performed to validate or negate this study’s outcomes.

Our findings conclude that while there is a low chance of the persistence of a pathogen in properly designed aquaponic and hydroponic systems, there is still a potential concern. No agricultural system is immune to this. Compared to soil production, soil-less crops grown in a controlled environment are far less likely to become infected pathogens from mammals, birds and other creatures which are difficult to prevent in field crop production. Human contamination or poor handling practices are of significant concern (Pattillo et al., 2015). The best way to avoid risk is to adhere to food safety guidelines set forth by the USDA, GlobalGAPs, the Aquaponic Association, and other accredited organizations.

contact: info@aquaponicsassociation.org

References

Bartelme, R.P., McLellan, S.L., Newton, R.J., 2017. Freshwater Recirculating Aquaculture System Operations Drive Biofilter Bacterial Community Shifts around a Stable Nitrifying Consortium of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea and Comammox Nitrospira. Front. Microbiol. 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2017.00101

Bartelme, R.P., Oyserman, B.O., Blom, J.E., Sepulveda-Villet, O.J., Newton, R.J., 2018. Stripping Away the Soil: Plant Growth Promoting Microbiology Opportunities in Aquaponics. Front. Microbiol. 9, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.00008

Berry, E.D., Wells, J.E., Bono, J.L., Woodbury, B.L., Kalchayanand, N., Norman, K.N., Suslow, T.V., López-Velasco, G., Millner, P.D., 2015. Effect of Proximity to a Cattle Feedlot on Escherichia coli O157:H7 Contamination of Leafy Greens and Evaluation of the Potential for Airborne Transmission. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 81, 1101–1110. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.02998-14

Compant, S., Duffy, B., Nowak, J., Clément, C., Barka, E.A., 2005. Use of Plant Growth-Promoting Bacteria for Biocontrol of Plant Diseases: Principles, Mechanisms of Action, and Future Prospects. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 71, 4951–4959. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.71.9.4951-4959.2005

Dankwa, A.S., 2019. Safety  Assessment of Hydroponic Closed System 127. https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4052&context=etd

Eck, M., Sare, A., Massart, S., Schmautz, Z., Junge, R., Smits, T., Jijakli, M., 2019. Exploring Bacterial Communities in Aquaponic Systems. Water 11, 260. https://doi.org/10.3390/w11020260

Guillen, Wrast, Environmental Institute of Houston, 2010, Fishes as Sources of E. coli Bacteria in Warm Water Streams, https://www.uhcl.edu/environmental-institute/research/publications/documents/10-015guillenetalfishreport.pdf

Henderson, H., 2008. Direct and indirect zoonotic transmission of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 232, 848–859. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.232.6.848

Konstantinidis, Chengwei Luo, 2011. Georgia Tech Institute, Environmental E. coli: New way to classify E. coli bacteria and test for fecal contamination, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110411152527.htm

Lim JY et al., Escherichia coli O157:H7 colonization at the rectoanal junction of long-duration culture-positive cattle. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007;73:1380–1382 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1828644/

Boston University Agent Sheet E.coli EHEC or STEC) (https://www.bu.edu/researchsupport/safety/rohp/agent-information-sheets/e-coli-0157h7-agent-information-sheet/).

Nowrouzian FL1, Adlerberth I, Wold AE., 2009 High frequency of false-positive signals in a real-time PCR-based “Plus/Minus” assay. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19161539

Riggio, G., Jones, S., Gibson, K., 2019. Risk of Human Pathogen Internalization in Leafy Vegetables During Lab-Scale Hydroponic Cultivation. Horticulturae 5, 25. https://doi.org/10.3390/horticulturae5010025

Solomon et al., Effect of Irrigation Method on Transmission to and Persistence

of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on Lettuce Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 65, No. 4, 2002, Pages 673–676 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11952218

  1. Gao*, T. Haine,  A. Chen,  Y. Tong, and X. Li, 2011, 7 logs of toxic strain of E coli  were removed by mesophilic AD process while ~ 5 logs increase of the strain were seen in water control with the same condition for 7 days

Pattillo*, Shaw, Currey, Xie, Rosentrater, 2015, Aquaponics Food Safety and Human Health, https://southcenters.osu.edu/sites/southc/files/site-library/site-documents/abc/aquaponics_workshop/AquaponicsFoodSafetyandHumanHealthAllenPatillo.pdf