Coronavirus Shows the Importance of Local, Efficient Agriculture

Aquaponic system at the University of the District of Columbia

By Brian Filipowich

The coronavirus outbreak is already disrupting international travel and trade. The pandemic could impact the global food supply chain and leave some populations without adequate nutrition.

This pandemic shows that we need to invest in local agriculture to boost our supply of local, reliable food. Aquaponics, hydroponics, and controlled-environment agriculture can produce large amounts of food with minimal space and resources. These water-based growing methods do not require soil and can be practiced from arid deserts to urban rooftops.

Hidden Cost of the Global Food Supply Chain

Our modern food system involves long travel distances and several steps along the supply chain. The average head of lettuce in the U.S. travels approximately 1,500 miles. Over 90% of our seafood is imported.

The coronavirus is exposing one major hidden cost of our global system: it is at risk from disruptions like pandemics, extreme weather events, military events, and economic or political upheavals. As the climate changes, these extreme events are more likely.

How does this hidden cost of the global food supply chain manifest itself?

An american consumer can find similar prices for a tomato grown 100 miles away and a tomato grown in another country 2,000 miles away. But during a global travel ban or category 5 hurricane, your local tomato will still be there. How do we account for this benefit during the good times, so that there are enough local growers to support us during possible disruptions?

Aquaponics, Hydroponics, and Controlled-Environment Agriculture

The problem is that with a changing climate, water shortages, and growing population, there is less land to grow for more people. Deserts, freezing climates, and urban areas do not have the arable soil to grow a meaningful amount of their own food to achieve food security.

Aquaponics is a food production method integrating fish and plants in a closed, soil-less system. This symbiotic relationship mimics the biological cycles found in nature. Benefits include dramatically less water use; no toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides; and no agriculture discharge to air, water or soil.

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water-based systems with externally supplied nutrients.

Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) is the practice of raising crops in a protected, optimal environment like a greenhouse.

These growing methods maximize the amount of crops that can be produced per square area per year. Plants can be grown densely and quickly because conditions are ideal and roots are delivered exactly what they need. And controlled-environments allow for year-round production.

Aquaponics brings the added benefit of fish – an efficient supply of animal protein. It takes 30 pounds of feed to produce a one-pound steak, only 2 pounds for a one-pound tilapia filet. Fish can be grown densely and indoors, compared to the large operations required for beef, pork, and poultry.

Economies across the globe must find ways to value the hidden benefits of local, efficient agriculture to encourage more local growing. There will always be another coronavirus-type event, let’s make sure we have a reliable supply of local food for it.

Food Safety Presentation from Aquaculture America

Photo: East Fork Creek Gardens, a Member of the Aquaponics Association

At the Aquaculture America Conference this month, Aquaponics Association Members Charlie Shultz and Dr. Nick Savidov delivered a presentation on aquaponics food safety: Good Agricultural Practice for Aquaponic Produce and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification, 2020 Update.

The presentation reviews the current state of Good Agriculture Practices (G.A.P.) for aquaponics and also discusses recent developments in aquaponics food safety.

For more information on aquaponics food safety, read the 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement, signed by over 130 farms and organizations.

The Aquaculture America conference was held in Honolulu, HI, and featured a day of aquaponics workshops and presentations.

 

Will you help us grow Aquaponics!

Are you interested in supporting the Aquaponics Association so we can speak with one voice on food safety issues?

Please consider an Association Membership!

Your $60 Membership Fee helps to grow Aquaponics!

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public and policy-makers about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Online learning opportunities like webinars and conference videos to improve growers’ skills and reach new growers
  • Infrastructure to connect growers, suppliers, advocates, educators, and funders from around the world
  • Annual conference for growers to connect face-to-face and build community
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety, and agriculture policy
  • Resources and strategic partnerships to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: Aquaponics Association Membership

 

TrueNute Nutrient Management Services

 

Check out a great service from True Aquaponics, 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!

Are you having nutrient issues with your commercial aquaponic system? Unsure what deficiency you have and what to dose to fix it? Worried about whether or not you or your farm manager dosed nutrients properly? Do you need to balance the nutrients your plants have available to them?  Want to maximize ROI of your produce?

TrueNute Nutrient Management Service is here to help!

With TrueNute Nutrient Management Service you simply pay a monthly fee, send in your water to be tested. We then use that data to custom formulate a nutrient/mineral solution that you simply cut open and add to your system to re-balance your aquaponic system and maximized both yields and pest resistance. This service is already helping many farmers across North America get the best production possible for their farms and it will help your aquaponics farm too!

For more information follow the link below:

https://trueaquaponics.com/pages/truenute-nutrient-management-service

If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected] or shoot us a text at 214-489-2311

USDA Grants Call for Aquaponics

Kentucky State University, 2019 Aquaponics Conference

By Brian Filipowich

Major Federal Grants have recently been published that can apply to aquaponics growers. USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Grants will disburse $192 Million for FY2020 across several different programs and specifically call for aquaponics and hydroponics projects.

Due dates for grant applications range from March 12 to May 28, 2020, depending on the project. The AFRI program is intended to invest in research, education, and extension projects that support more sustainable, productive, and economically viable agricultural systems.

Click here for AFRI Request for Applications.

Aquaponics projects can fit into multiple programs within the Grant, including:

  • Foundational Knowledge of Agricultural Production Systems
  • Pests and Beneficial Species in Agricultural Production Systems
  • Small- and Medium-Sized Farms
  • Water Quantity and Quality

Separately, USDA Aquaculture Research Grants have also been published. These grants total $1.2 Million. The due date is April 22, 2020.

Click here for Aquaculture Request for Application.

The USDA Aquaculture Program supports the development of an environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture industry in the U.S. and generate new science-based information and innovation to address industry constraints.

Given that over 90% of U.S. seafood is imported, and seafood is a much more efficient source of animal protein than than beef, pork, and poultry, you’d think we need to invest more in aquaculture and aquaponics!

 

Aquaponics at Aquaculture America, Honolulu, HI

Aquaculture America is coming up Feb 9-12 in Honolulu, HI.

The Aquaponics sessions at the Conference will be Feb 10 from 11am-5pm; and Feb 11 from 10:30am to 12:30pm. There will be over 30 presentations on all aspects of aquaponics.

Aquaponics Engineer Huy Tran noted that aquaponics is growing rapidly; a few years ago at the Aquaculture America Conference there were only 4 aquaponics presentations.

On behalf of the Aquaponics Association, Dr. Nick Savidov and Charlie Shultz will present “Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for Aquaponic Produce and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification, 2020 Update.” A special thanks to Meg Stout for spearheading that presentation.

Partnership with Indoor Ag Con

The Aquaponics Association is proud to partner with Indoor Ag Con in support of their upcoming conference. Themed “Growing the Future,” the 2020 edition of Indoor Ag-Con will be the showplace for robotics, automation, AI, breaking technology trends and product innovation.

Aquaponics Association Board of Directors Member and Treasurer Claudia Andracki will join the full line-up of industry experts, thought leaders and executives leading programs across three tracks: Business; Science & Technology; and Alternative Crops. Ms. Andracki is the owner of Desert Bloom Eco Farm, a solar-powered farm one hour outside of Las Vegas.

Ms. Andracki will join the panel discussion “The Latest Developments In Aquaponics” on opening day, May 18 from 9 – 9:45 am. Click here for a sneak preview of confirmed speakers. Click here for a sneak preview of the conference schedule in development.

As part of the Aquaponics Association industry alliance with Indoor Ag-Con, Association Members can save
an additional $100 off the Early Bird registration rate for the upcoming May 18-20, 2020 edition at the Wynn Las Vegas, and save up to $400 off the regular full conference pass rate for the premier trade event for the indoor & vertical farming industry. Members, stay tuned for an email from us with the Promo Code.

As part of the partnership, Indoor Ag Con will become an Affiliate Member of the Aquaponics Association.

Click here to learn more about Indoor Ag Con.

Aquaponics Can Reduce Food Miles

By Brian Filipowich

Long travel distances for our food lead to excessive carbon use, energy use for refrigeration, food spoilage, nutrient depletion, and poorer food security.

Aquaponics – and other controlled-environment growing techniques like hydroponics and aeroponics – can greatly reduce the distance food travels from farm to plate.

For the first time ever, researchers recently attempted to map out the entire U.S. food supply chain. The resulting map, above, shows an intricate web of food moving across the country. The full report is public and can be found here: Food flows between counties of the United States (Lin, 2019)

The map illustrates that our food travels long distances before it reaches our plate. “Food miles” is the measurement that tracks the actual distance food travels from farm to plate.

“Studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels over 1,300 miles, and fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles, before being consumed.” (ATTRA, 2008)

One reason for high food miles is because most food requires a large amount of open land and arable soil, and requires a specific climate to be grown at a large scale. Only certain parts of the country meet this criteria, and these areas must transport food long distances to reach all U.S. consumers. The map to the right shows the nine counties in the U.S. (highlighted in red) from which most food originates.

But aquaponics – and other modern growing methods like hydroponics and aeroponics – are water-based and do not require large amounts of arable soil. Also, these modern growing methods are usually practiced in “controlled-environments” like greenhouses that maintain ideal growing environments for plants throughout the entire year.

Aquaponic systems that raise edible fish can further reduce food miles by cutting down on the distance needed to transport the animal protein in our diets. The demand for animal protein is expected to rise along with world population growth. But farms that raise beef, pork, and poultry need large tracts of land far from population centers. Conversely, aquaponics and other recirculating aquaculture operations can raise fish in urban or suburban areas. And, because fish have a much more efficient feed conversion ratio than land animals, less feed stock needs to be grown and shipped, further increasing efficiency.

To read more about food miles, see Food Miles, Background and Marketing from ATTRA.

One often-overlooked benefit of local food is greater food security. Our complex web of food is susceptible to systemic shocks such as weather or disaster events. In extreme cases, disruptions could make it difficult to get enough food to a certain population. A greater proportion of local food allows areas to be better-prepared in cases of unexpected events.

But, before we assume that all food miles are bad, more research is needed to measure the tradeoffs between local and long-distance. For instance, studies show that it’s often more efficient to import fruits from distant warmer climates than to heat a local greenhouse in the winter.

More needs to be done to evaluate, quantify, and account for the hidden costs of our food system, including food miles. Analytic tools such as True Cost Accounting, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) create a more complete picture of the true cost of a product. LCA takes into account the costs of a product’s entire life cycle: production, processing, packaging, transport, use, and final disposal. LCA uses indicators not traditionally captured in a product’s market price, such as resource depletion, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, human health impacts, and waste generation.

Analytic tools like LCA can uncover the true cost of shipping foods long distances and incentivize local agriculture. Aquaponic and hydroponic growers will benefit because – without the need for soil – they can get as close to consumers as possible. The result will be fresher food, less strain on the planet, and local economic growth!

 

SAVE THE DATE: Tulsa, Oklahoma September 25-27

ANNUAL CONFERENCE SAVE THE DATE

The Aquaponics Association is excited to announce that we will hold our annual conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma from September 25 – 27! Stay tuned for much more info and tickets within a few weeks.

2019 PRESENTATIONS AVAILABLE FOR MEMBERS

Did you know that Aquaponics Association Members have free access to the conference slide decks from last year’s conference at Kentucky State University? Click here to learn about Membership and access these informative presentations from experienced growers.

Members, to access the slides you can go to the main Members Area and look under Member Content, click “2019 Conference Slide Decks”.

ORGANICS WEBINAR

Tickets are one sale for the Organics Made Simple Webinar starting February 5, led by Juli Ogden. This webinar will give you everything you need to know to get your aquaponic or hydroponic farm certified Organic!

Congress Funds Office of Urban & Innovative Agriculture

By Brian Filipowich

The new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production created by the 2018 Farm Bill had been sitting in limbo for the past year. The USDA declined to establish it without dedicated funding from Congress.

On December 20, 2019, the President signed into law H.R. 1865, The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. The Law includes $5 million for the Office.

The Mission of the Office is to 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; and
  • hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic farm facilities.

The Office will disburse $10 million in grants before 2023 intended to “facilitate urban agricultural production, harvesting, transportation, and marketing.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was the main sponsor of the new Office, and was responsible adding it to the 2018 Farm Bill. This past Fall, Senator Stabenow introduced an amendment to appropriate the $5 million to fund it.

The next step is to establish the Advisory Committee that will guide the establishment of the Office. The Committee is to be composed of 12 individuals from various sectors of the urban and innovative ag field.

The Farm Bill directed the establishment of the advisory committee by Summer, 2019. The USDA missed the target date because of the lack of funding and the USDA’s major relocation project from Washington, DC to Kansas City, MO, which “has resulted in catastrophic attrition at USDA’s top research agencies.”

Hopefully, with the new funding, the USDA can establish the Office soon.

North Central Aquaculture Conference Feb 1-2 in Columbus, Ohio

The 2020 North Central Aquaculture Conference, co-hosted by the USDA North Central Regional
Aquaculture Center (NCRAC) and the Ohio Aquaculture Association (OAA) will be held February 1-2,
2020 in Columbus, OH. Eighteen sessions comprising 54 presentations will be available for attendees to choose from.

Attendees can register here: http://ohioaquaculture.org/events

Click for 2020 North Central Aquaculture Conference Final News Release

Click here for 2020 Conference Agenda with Speakers

Commercial Aquaponics Breakout Discussions

By Brian Filipowich

At the Putting Out Fruits Conference in September, 2019 we held breakout discussions for Commercial Aquaponics, Community Aquaponics, and Aquaponics Research & Education. These small-group discussions allowed all participants to provide input on how we can work together to advance aquaponics in each area.

This article reviews participants’ input from the Commercial Aquaponics discussions from Friday and Sunday.

On Friday, we asked participants what they view as the main roadblocks to advancing Commercial Aquaponics. Participants identified the following issues:

  • Public Awareness
    The aquaponics community needs to be better at educating consumers about the quality and benefits of aquaponic fish and produce. And we need to do better garnering political support for our cause.
  • The Aquaponic Workforce
    Because modern aquaponics is still new, there is an inadequate supply of specialized labor with aquaponics knowledge. And, there is a long, steep learning curve to bring new employees up to speed.
  • Pest Management
    Pest management can be tricky in aquaponics because many pesticides in normal agriculture may not be safe for the aquaponic ecosystem, which also includes fish and bacteria. Monoculture growing in a greenhouse can make this even more difficult because some insects may proliferate once they find a large crop they like.
  • Infrastructure
    Some growers have a tough time accessing affordable infrastructure like electricity and water.
  • Financing
    Most banks and insurance companies don’t understand aquaponics.
  • Regulations
    Some growers run into unforeseen regulatory issues, and a lack of scientific study to address food safety and regulatory questions.
  • Are “fish veggies” yucky?
    Some consumers believe that plants grown in an aquaponic system may not be safe to eat because of the fish. Others think the fruits and veggies might taste like fish! (they don’t)

Then, on Sunday, we asked participants if they had ideas how we can work together to advance Commercial Aquaponics. Participants identified the following ideas:

  • New Technologies
    New technologies that make aquaponics more efficient will save money and help commercial growers’ bottom lines. One specific example was nano-bubble technology.
  • Connecting Growers
    An online map that displays aquaponic farms, training centers, and suppliers will help growers connect and identify resources and advice.
  • Extension Agents
    Land-grant colleges offer extension services to spread agriculture information to farmers. Because aquaponics is new, some colleges know much more about aquaponics than others. It is inefficient for growers to struggle with problems when an extension agent in another state already knows the solution. By improving aquaponics knowledge among extension agents nationwide we can save growers time and energy rather than recreating the wheel state-by-state.
  • Baseline Standard Operating Procedures
    Establishing baseline Aquaponics Standard Operating Procedures would let all growers and outside stakeholders know exactly what occurs in an aquaponic system. This will prevent mistakes from growers, and prevent misinformation spreading among outside parties. Such standards could also include lists of acceptable and unacceptable materials or supplements to use in an aquaponics system.
  • Grants and Funding
    More funding would speed up the advances in technology and business practices and bring aquaponic production to the mainstream faster.
  • Legal / Regulatory Representation
    The aquaponics community needs to be able to address legal and regulatory issues that have the potential to set back – or push forward – the entire industry. For example, a major food safety certifier recently announced it would phase out aquaponics eligibility in 2020, based on unfounded concerns. The Aquaponics Association has responded with the 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement. Other examples include working Congress to fund the new USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, which is intended to be the USDA’s central hub for aquaponics and other new agriculture techniques; keeping aquaponics eligible for Organic certification; and including aquaponics in the 2018 Farm Bill. As the industry grows, so will misinformation. We must be ready to speak out with one voice when these circumstances occur.