Innovation 18 May 2016

Next-generation metropolitan farming: aquaponics

Today’s consumers increasingly choose healthy, fresh and local food. Companies are responding to that by setting up systems for food production in and around cities. Aquaponics is a next-generation way of metropolitan farming and the latest attempt at making agriculture commercially viable in densely populated areas. Thomas Zöllner, expert on metropolitan agriculture, introduces us to this innovative way of enterprising.

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a ‘clean and green’ method of growing fish and plants together in a synergistic system. The fish are reared in tanks and their wastewater is up-cycled to the plants that are growing in climate-controlled conditions. The plants take up the nutrients converted from waste produced by fish for growth. The two systems actually benefit from each other. This efficient ecosystem has the potential to produce more sustainable food with fewer resources in less space.

‘Fish and potatoes go very well together’, Thomas Zöllner says as a quip, ‘and not only on a plate. Aquaponic systems have the unique ability to produce both fish and plants year-round and deliver them to markets the same day they are harvested. This cultivation method has environmental, social and economic benefits.’

Start-ups emerge by the hundreds

Hype or here to stay?

‘It is a fascinating moment in time’, Thomas Zöllner continues. ‘All my life I have been in this industry, but never have I seen so much change! This development has taken over my entire time. I left my conventional job to help the start-ups that emerge by the hundreds. Even people that were never in this industry believe in it and start a venture to produce local food. They often are idealistic and very enthusiastic. In the beginning they receive a lot of attention from the media. One farm even took 250 media calls in its first year! But after a while the novelty is gone. Then they can use help on how and what to grow and to make their business commercially viable. I am convinced this will succeed.’

Getting it right

United Stated, South America, Asia, Europe, everywhere this new cultivation method arises. But is sufficient turnover achieved? Thomas Zöllner: ‘When you start a disruptive business today, it has to be attractive and provide a better margin than conventional production. People are willing to pay more for organic products because they receive an added value. This new highly efficient system has the making to become Organic 2.0! Fresh, healthy and local food.

“This has the making
to become Organic 2.0”

The product makes the business case. A lot of fish is imported, so there are opportunities in supplying an attractive and locally produced protein product. From the plant side it is a bit harder to differ. In order to make up for a higher price, you need products with added value such as a unique flavor or quality, or products with a story to tell. Getting the food pairing right is crucial for success. I think potatoes have a huge potential within aquaponics. They are undervalued and not been conceived to be innovated with.’

HZPC & aquaponics

When people look for something new in fresh food, HZPC innovative spirit attracts their attention. This is also true for aquaponics. There is interest to experiment with mini tuber Perupas within the new cultivation method. This would produce colourful little potatoes that can be picked of a plant like strawberries.