Economic Viability of Aquaponics

BY Leslie Ter Morshuizen

Economic Viability of Aquaponics


When we started our 300m2 Aquaponics Facility in late 2012 we did so with the following specific goals in mind:

  • Test and refine which crops did the best under Aquaponics
  • Quantify the technical variables to optimise the design
  • Establish appropriate planting densities, cropping times, etc
  • Confirm the economic viability of Aquaponics in SA

Over the two years of running this system we have learned a great deal about the crops and market, we have made a few technical changes to the system and we have confirmed the best crops for our situation based on our climate, market and system design. In addition, we have learned what it takes to run a financially viable aquaponics facility.


The question of financial viability is one that is often asked concerning aquaponics - `is it a viable business?’ From what we have seen Aquaponics can be profitable but in order for this to occur you need to have several `ducks in a row’, and in no particular order of importance these `ducks’ would be:


Crop Selection

Forget about the fish they are almost irrelevant, in Aquaponics it is the vegetable crops that earn the revenue. Selecting the correct plant crop is therefore of paramount importance to economic viability in Aquaponics. Initially we produced mountains of the most incredible quality basil, but fed it to the earthworms as we could not sell 120kg basil p.m. in Grahamstown. We investigated sending it to Port Elizabeth and even secured an off-take agreement for the full amount, but in order to profitably serve this market we would have to erect several more tunnels.

We learned from this initial error and spoke to local restaurateurs to establish which crops they would be interested in purchasing. Following their advice we switched to producing a range of vegetables and herbs, and most grow incredibly well. On marketing the crops we learned the next valuable lesson – because the plants grow well and the market wants it does not mean that it is profitable to grow! Swiss chard, butternut and beans are good examples of crops that grow extremely well (and the swiss chard grown in aquaponics is not gritty!) and are in high demand, but the prices do not justify the effort involved. Over time we refined the crops to those that enjoy a healthy market demand but are optimally profitable to produce. Our production is now based on cucumbers using the vertical space with herbs covering the horizontal area.


Keep the Pests under Control

I would love to find an organic product that is also truly effective at treating sap sucking pests! The range we use works fairly well but every now and then we are over whelmed but aphids and have to take control to avoid reduced production or even losing the crops entirely. Watch carefully for those pests and treat early and often.


Every Piece of Growbed must be Planted

Aquaponics in a temperate climate generally occurs inside a greenhouse tunnel. Active heating keeps the water near optimal temperature levels for the plants and fish, resulting in good growth of both. Such infrastructure is expensive to install and must therefore be operated so as to maximise output. The growbeds must remain fully planted at all times, aging plants must be removed to make space for young, more vigorous plants and the fish tanks must enjoy proper stocking densities.


A High Market Price is Vital

Again, because of the high capital cost of Aquaponics, it is necessary to secure a high price for the crops and fish being produced. This is as important as producing the maximum quantity of crops from the infrastructure.


In conclusion, when run properly Aquaponics certainly can be profitable, so much so that we made our first profit distribution to stakeholders last month. Viva Aquaponics!

 October 28, 2014
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