Support for Livestock Producers: The Government of Alberta has recently announced that drought-stricken livestock producers will be eligible for millions of dollars in financial relief and will benefit from new rangeland initiatives that will improve access to water and grazing. For more information, please see www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=7966722273381-D712-69FD-A5A64F8C463D0F2D.
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AG NEWS - RECENT ARTICLE
January 18, 2022 - Aquaponics is Alive and Flourishing in Alberta!
The first fully automated zero waste system was developed with Lethbridge College.
For those not familiar with the term, Aquaponics is the marriage of both aquaculture (cultivating fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient rich water).
In Alberta, aquaponic systems were developed in response to the aquaculture industry’s desire to eliminate fish waste. The transition into aquaponics began with aquaculture farmers building greenhouses and growing vegetables in the mid-1990s.
At the same time the Government of Alberta began investing in aquaponic research. This led to the creation of the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) at Lethbridge College, where much of the current technology was developed.
There are three main components to an aquaponic system: fish rearing, plant growing, and waste treatment.
Dr. Nick Savidov, the Yoda of aquaponics, developed the world’s first fully automated, zero waste aquaponic system in Alberta with the Aquatic Centre of Excellence. This 4th generation Integrated Fish and Plant System (IFPS) includes 4 fish rearing tanks, an extensive filtration system, and a large plant pond.
The process starts with fingerling (young) fish growing in large tanks. Tilapia or koi are commonly used fish in aquaponics because they grow in warmer water that supports plant growth, unlike cold water fish like trout, salmon, and char.
Tilapia have a 24 week growth cycle from fingerling to harvest. With 4 fish rearing tanks one can be harvested every 6 weeks. This rotational harvest helps to keep nutrients in the system balanced.
Water from the fish goes through a drum filter where the liquids are separated from solids.
The liquid fish waste goes through filtration tanks, and oxygen is added to the system. This helps microorganisms break down the fish waste into nutrients that the plants can use, resulting in nutrient rich water.
The solid waste is sent to a biodigester where microorganism break it down before it moves to a clarifier. Solids and liquids are again separated through a process called dewatering and the liquids feed back into the system as clean water for the fish.
Previously the solids from the dewatering process would be considered a waste product, but Dr. Savidov developed a process where it goes through oxygen rich bioreactors to create nutrient rich water. This is part of what makes the Integrated Fish and Plant System waste free.
The nutrient rich water then makes its way to the plant trays. Here the nutrients are taken up by the plants which cleans the water and then it is cycled back into the fish tanks.
Water is only added to the system to replace what is lost to evaporation. The Government of Alberta’s Aquaponics Project at the Crop Diversification Centre South in Brooks reused the same water for over 12 years. Over that time, they did not observe an accumulation of salts or toxic compounds in the water.
Recirculating water also allows for efficient pest management through biocontrol, soap sprays and living bacteria-basted pesticides may be used when necessary. Overall, this system reduces the need for herbicides and other pesticides.
Plants grown in an aquaponic system are started as seeds in a soil-free medium such as coconut coir, biochar, rockwool or vermiculite. Seedlings are then transferred to the plant trays which have floating rafts made of plastic or foam. Each plant is set into a hole in the raft to allow the roots to grow in the nutrient rich water.
Aquaponic systems provide both fish and plants as a source of income. A large variety of plants can be grown in this manner, some of the common ones are tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, and leafy greens.
While the 4th generation Integrated Fish and Plant System sets up a standard and efficient aquaponic system, there are many adaptations and alterations that can be made.
To grow plants more densely the plant trays can be replaced with vertical pods. One example of this is a string of plastic bulbs, each one with a hole near the top and a small green plant popping out.
Another adaptation currently being studied is using different forms of animal waste such as poultry manure to create nutrient rich water for plant growth. The poultry manure would go through many of the same oxygen rich bioreactors where microorganism break it down into nutrients available to plants.
Aquaponic systems in Alberta continue to evolve and develop. Commercial systems are also becoming more commonplace. Whether to provide local restaurants with fresh produce and fish year-round, or to bridge gaps in our food supply chain.
As we have all witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent floods in BC, local food production is essential to ensuring a stable and continuous food supply.