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Aquaponic systems gaining interest in Texas

Dr. Joe Masabni

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Aquaponic systems gaining interest in Texas

Aquaponic systems are gaining interest around the state as producers and scientists work out the kinks in the relatively new production method and create best practices to spur future successes.

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture, the science of raising fish, and hydroponics, the science of growing plants without soil, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service publication available at http://bit.ly/2qF9VN7.

Dr. Joe Masabni, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Overton, is conducting experiments to test aquaponic concepts and identify best-recommended practices, such as determining proper fish density for lettuce and other greens and finding applications to fight pests or diseases that do not harm fish.

“There are so many opinions out there about aquaponics,” he said. “I am trying to prove or disprove them and provide the public with solid information that will help them succeed.”

Masabni has been experimenting with greenhouse aquaponics systems at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton.

Experiments so far have shown initial results regarding fish density, Masabni said. Plants grown under high-density fish conditions performed better, including earlier harvests, higher yields and are overall more aesthetically desirable. But the high-density fish system required much more maintenance, such as making sure fish waste does not clog the system, than the low-density system.

“With a low-density system, you just feed the fish and let them go, it seems like,” he said. “There are advantages and disadvantages, and we want to determine what is best for producers who are growing produce for themselves or who are trying to market their fish and vegetables on a commercial scale.”

Masabni is also looking at the cost-effectiveness of systems and to find efficiencies. He is trying to identify fish species, such as tilapia or goldfish, best suited for aquaponics systems and toxicity studies to identify treatment options for producers to fight diseases or pests.

Texas is very well suited for aquaponics, Masabni said. Systems are especially suited for areas with limited water availability and near metropolitan areas.
“You can produce the same crop with 10 percent of the water you use in the field,” he said.

Produce is also “beyond organic,” he said, as there is no use of chemicals to treat pests and disease. Producers employ sanitation measures, such as cleaning benches, tools, and other hardware with bleach to address possible contamination, and netting to prevent pests from accessing crops.

Crops can also be grown year-round, he said. With a properly functioning system, producers can harvest fish up to six times per year and crops every 30 days.

Masabni said the volume of phone calls, emails and site visit requests from interested homeowners, commercial growers and state agencies, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, indicates growing interest in aquaponic production systems.

Three workshops held at Overton last year were well-attended, and more educational events are being planned.

The next aquaponics workshop is planned for July, Masabni said. Check with local AgriLife Extension agents regarding opportunities to learn more about aquaponic systems.

For now, Masabni is concentrating on educational efforts to reach growers and potential growers before they begin having problems with their systems.

“It’s always much easier to learn best practices and avoid problems than to wait and learn from costly mistakes,” he said. “I am learning as I go as well, what to do and what not to do, but I can afford learning hard lessons as a researcher. My work here is to benefit others.”

source: Texas A&M University – AgriLife

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