Hydroponics has become a popular term used by the farming community, but often times we can perhaps confuse its cousin, aquaponics, for its twin.
While not yet as common as hydroponics, it is slowly gaining traction as an alternative soilless farming method in Malaysia. In short, aquaponics is a subset of hydroponics that uses aquaculture, which refers to plants and fish raised in water to provide nutrients to plants.
Behind the science of aquaponics
For refreshment, hydroponics is an agricultural method that replaces the soil with nutrient-rich water. These nutrients include magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and other “plant foods” that your crops need to thrive.
To create a hydroponic system, you need to invest in fresh water, oxygen, root support (like coconut fiber or rock wool), nutrients, and light.
The benefit of using this growing method over conventional soil-based methods is that you can grow crops just about anywhere while reducing the risk of disease, limiting the resources needed to system setup and also helping plants to mature faster, which leads to higher yields.
Aquaponics incorporates all of this into its rearing system, with the addition of fish and other aquatic animals and plants to the water.
The science behind this is quite simple: fish excretion becomes a nutrient for crops because it contains nitrogen (in the form of ammonia), phosphorus and potassium, among other nutrients your crops need, as mentioned. They replace the formulated nutrient rich water.
When plants take in these nutrients, they simultaneously cleanse the water so the fish can stay healthy. While water filters are not necessary for aquaponics, as it is a fairly self-contained system, adding a filter can improve the health of your fish and plants.
Can you reproduce this at home?
“Aquaponics is actually very low maintenance because all you need is the right fish to raise, the space to build your farm, an efficient water filter system, and balanced water chemistry. “explained Dr Richard of Farm2Fork with Vulcan Post. Farm2Fork is a supplier of aquaponics equipment for several farms.
He recommends tilapia for beginners who want to try their hand at aquaponics as it is one of the hardiest fish that can survive a wide range of water conditions and requires minimal care. Plus, they’re delicious (yes, you can eat your aquaponics if it’s an edible species, unlike koi or goldfish).
In fact, you can even use lobster or crayfish for aquaponics, as shown in this Klang farm providing an aquaponics system setup and live lobsters to go along with it.
Of course, even the hardiest fish can’t take so much, so Dr Richard explained that having the right water filtration system can help plants sanitize the tank to provide a healthier environment in the tank. system and make maintenance less complicated.
A big initial investment
Based on the Farm2Fork packages, if you are looking to grow for your own consumption, it will cost you around RM20,800 for a setup. This setup will occupy approximately 60 square feet and can produce approximately 40 kg of vegetables each month.
Whereas if you are looking to grow commercially it will set you back around RM57,800 which takes up 300 square feet and can produce up to 190kg per month. Farm2Fork’s largest commercial package, which occupies 1,000 square feet, costs RM 148,800 and can produce up to 730 kg of vegetables per month.
There are other local aquaponics system suppliers like HAVVA and Aquaponics Growing Supplies, but Farm2Fork differs in that it provides the tools and configurations for you, while the other two require you to hire an installer.
As for the monthly costs, an aquaponics farmer from Cheras (E-Farm) previously shared with The Star that their monthly electricity and water bills are RM500 and RM15 respectively depending on their system that is working. with a pump.
Benefits of using aquaponics
One of the aforementioned attractions is that it is a self-sustaining system, as it is almost an ecosystem in its own right. Hydroponics is a more tedious system in comparison because you have to change your nutrient-water solution every 2-3 weeks to maintain optimum pH and nutrient levels for your plants.
Similar to hydroponics, aquaponics uses 90% less water than gardening in soil because it recycles water through the plants and the aquarium. The resulting plants are also organic as aquaponics systems are set up in a controlled environment and the use of pesticides is not recommended as they are harmful to fish. Plus, you don’t need any lighting equipment to grow your crops if you also have the space outside.
Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics allows you to grow multiple vegetables side by side and Farm2Fork claims its technology can help you grow up to 10 varieties of vegetables in the same space.
Disadvantages of aquaponics
Currently, there is no conclusive study on which water system (hydroponics and aquaponics) performs higher, as it all comes down to how you manage your systems.
Compared to hydroponics, it takes more space to build an aquaponics system, and it is also more expensive because hydroponics systems cost around RM4K to RM5K without installation.
With aquaponics, you also need to factor in the cost of the fish. You’ll need to make sure they’re fed and invest in some lightweight aquarium protection to keep algae from growing and competing for nutrients with your crops, or clogging your pipes.
If you are not a patient person, the initial aquaponics setup might not be your cup of tea, as you need to acclimatize the fish and let the water cycle before adding the plants. Circulating the water means letting bacteria activity occur first, and this can take up to 4-6 weeks depending on the water temperature.
The aquaponics scene in Malaysia
You can grow almost anything with aquaponics; some common crops Malaysians grow are green onions, bok choy, peppers, lettuce, bitter gourd, ginger, mangoes and even edamame and Japanese melons.
Locally, the commercial aquaponics scene is more focused on the vendor side of things and training on how to set up aquaponics in your own home.
To help you assess the growing demand for aquaponics, Dr Richard told Vulcan Post that they’ve been able to set up 60 units of farms in Malaysia and overseas in countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, Slovenia and the United States since their inception 2 years ago.
But getting to where they are today required an initial investment of RM300,000 for research coupled with continued failures for 10 months. “So far, we have invested over 1.5 million RM in the last 24 months in hardware development, and the investment continues,” he revealed.
Little research has been done on the profitability of commercial aquaponics overseas, let alone locally. The general consensus is that profitability will only be achieved when operations are on a large scale. For urban farmers, space can then be a constraint.
Despite this, it is still a solution with environmental and economic benefits to ensure food safety and security. Indeed, global food production is already facing countless problems such as climate change, urbanization, etc., making controlled and more efficient farming methods of aquaponics (and hydroponics) a welcome solution. .
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In short, aquaponics is a versatile breeding method. But like everything else, it has its pros and cons depending on how you want to use it and for what.
|Benefits of aquaponics||Disadvantages of aquaponics|
|Autonomous system (you can be quite passive)||Requires some space|
|Uses 90% less water than gardening in soil||Another living thing that you need to take care of (to some extent): the fish|
|Multi-crop system (you can grow a few vegetables side by side at a time)||Need to wait to acclimate the fish to the environment before you can start breeding, which may take more than a month|
|Organic vegetables (pesticides not recommended because they are bad for fish)||Expensive initial investment|
- You can read more about Farm2Fork here.
- You can read other agritech articles that we have written here.
Image Credit Featured: Dr Richard Ng, Founder of Farm2Fork
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