The Four Hard Questions For Commercial Aquaponics

Aquaponics CourseA student from Egypt receives his Certificate on completion of the February 2014 Practical Aquaponics Commercial and Small Farm course.

I have been most fortunate over the last few years in that I have travelled widely around the world and visited and consulted on many Aquaponics farms.  It is always on my mind to identify and clarify the most common reasons some farm projects succeed and some fail.   There is a multitude of reasons both ways, but here I am attempting to condense it down to the four most obvious. There are many, many successful farms. For the most part they are quietly going about their business, doing business, expanding business and making money.  Bad news travels fast so it is not surprising that we hear the failure stories.   Almost all Aquaponics farms I have been involved in have either failed or succeeded based on how well or otherwise they have dealt with these four issues.

There is nothing wrong or inherently bad about growing top quality produce. In fact, it is a business activity for this time, without doubt. We see everywhere an increasing demand for quality pure food.  People from all socioeconomic groups are seeking better food for their families.  I should not need to spell out all the bad things that are happening in our “normal” food supply chain. Instead we can concentrate in delivering the “good news” about Aquaponics;  nutrient dense, clean, tasty food.  People everywhere get excited about the possibilities Aquaponics offers, from a commercial business perspective and as a consumer.

It really is a “no brainer”. Good, pure, high nutrient density produce will sell for premium prices.

Aquaponics produce is a great product to sell and should be relatively easy to market in most parts of the world.

Many see the beauty and the opportunity Aquaponics offers and set out to create a business plan, a construction plan to “Go Commercial”.

The four big questions you must ask yourself and your business partner if planning to “Go Commercial” are:

Q1. Will I have a viable and vibrant Marketing strategy?

This is the most important aspect of any business and Aquaponics is no different. The old adage “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” is just not true, unfortunately. You will need to be very intentional in researching your particular location, identifying just who the clients are, then getting your message to them.   And this task will NEVER end.  It is not a “set and forget” type of thing.

Q2. Do I have enough capital?

Make sure your set up costs and earning projections are realistic.  Remember Murphy’s law? “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Any form of farming is a risky business. Make sure you have enough cash to see your project into profit. Go over your cost projections over and over again. Be very conservative in your numbers.

Ignore the crazy claims made by some - “1100 vegetables and 400 pounds of fish per year” from a system about the size of a snooker table, and tens of thousands of pounds from something as big as a family tennis court.  Growing produce by the Aquaponic method is not some “dark art” that will produce magical harvests and truckloads of money.  Gather information from a reliable source, or two.

Q3. Do I have a good work ethic?

This may sound like a silly question, but many an “investor” type person’s idea of running a farm is sitting all day in an air-conditioned office and expecting the “hired hands” to get it all done.  If you are going to be a successful farmer then you need to be a farmer. That means getting out there at daylight, harvesting the produce and getting it to your clients.  I have seen a couple of farm failures that have flopped for this very reason. The guy turns up at 10 am and is gone again by twelve.  Farming is farming.  Having said that, one very experienced and successful farmer says that Aquaponics farming is the easiest farming he has ever done, but it is still farming.

Q4. Do I have unrealistic expectations and have I set unrealistic pre conditions?

Some contact me and ask for advices and then place unrealistic conditions on their proposed project. The most common one I see of late is: “I expect to be introduced to a half-dozen successful farms and I demand that these farms reveal their last two years profit and loss statements and that the farm only has one revenue stream”.   This attitude reveals an underlying desire to just copy someone else’s plan and be guaranteed success. If this was actually done it would almost guarantee failure.

Someone else’s plan can never be your plan.  Their marketing strategy can never be a perfect fit for your location. Their work ethic is most likely very different from your work ethic. Their capital availability is very likely to be different from yours and so on it goes.  It is just plain silly to demand such things.  People that are successful farmers are not very likely to open their books to any old Tom, Dick or Harry that demands to take a look.  You need to be first convinced that Aquaponics produce is a good and saleable product, then you need to have a plan to sell it for the highest possible price.  Having said that, it is good and worthwhile to be able to view some case studies. No one makes money from growing produce, money is made from selling the produce.

Never discount other revenue streams from your Aquaponics farm plan. Businesses everywhere and of every type strive to create and identify as many revenue streams as possible to incorporate into their business plan.  In my view it is a recipe for failure to place such revenue restrictions on your Aquaponics business model.   We see this idea of revenue only from one source being sprouted on forums and email groups, interestingly from people that do not even have a Aquaponics farm or, in some cases have not even had a small Aquaponics home system.  Most promoting these fanciful ideas have never even had and run their own business; of any type.

In creating your business plan it is prudent to be assured that you can ultimately make it pay from the core activity alone.  However, do not discount or exclude other possible revenue streams.   Other revenue streams are very useful in providing cash flow, especially during the development and bedding down phases of the business plan implementation. Every business has seasonal or circumstantial dips in revenue from the core activity. That is when the other smaller revenue stream activities carry the business through those down times.

So, the questions you need to answer very truthfully to yourself are:

1       Will I give due attention to my marketing plan?
2       Will I have enough cash to see the project through to profit?
3       Will I work like a farmer and do on a daily basis the work that needs to be done? and
4       Do I have very realistic expectations?

Murray Hallam's Practical Aquaponics.

Truly excellent Commercial and Small Farm training delivered by Murray Hallam himself.  Find out how you can attend one of these 4 day or 1 day Aquaponics courses HERE.

Murray Hallams Practical Aquaponics - Aquaponics based on practical experience.


Posted By Murray Hallam on Wednesday 20th November 2013 @ 04:11:24

Updated : Friday 17th July 2015 @ 16:54:00 | Words : 1258 | Views : 2167 | Comments : 4

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3 Comments

1)

Hi Rachel,
You are correct. The most published numbers are from UVI. Aquaponics is a new and very young industry and there has been very little investment into farms etc when compared to Hydroponics and Aquaculture. It will come. Why would we do Aquaponics? Simply because it is a complete food production system and above that it is an ECO system which the others cannot even come close to. The investment will come. It is a process just like any other industry.
Sardines, don't have any knowledge on that sorry, but cannot see any reason why not.


Posted By Murray on Sunday 5th January 2014 @ 18:43:44

2)

Hi Rachel,
There is no reason why any freshwater fish cannot be grown given the right circumstances. Optimised systems? Good comment, but the beauty of AP lies in the fact that it is a natural ECO system making use of natural processes to produce the high quality fish and veggies, without the use of suspect chemicals, and it is nutrient dense food. Hydroponics is not optimised to grow a variety of crops at the same time. "Diversity" is good in Aquaponics, we can grow a large variety of vegetables at the same time in the same system; as opposed to mono cropping as we see in "optimised" Hydro systems. Similarly we have similar happenings in Aquaculture.


Posted By Murray on Sunday 1st December 2013 @ 20:13:26

3)

I really like this post and have been struggling with these same questions. You state ' Ignore the crazy claims made by some – “1100 vegetables and 400 pounds of fish per year” from a system about the size of a snooker table, and tens of thousands of pounds from something as big as a family tennis court. Having said that, it is good and worthwhile to be able to view some case studies. " The only documented info out there are Rakocy's studies and some student theses to arrive at production numbers. Manufacturers make claims on their systems but a consumer has to take these production numbers with a grain of salt since they are trying to sell you their systems after all! There is much info about hydroponic and aquaculture production numbers but Aquaponic growing may not be as efficient since it is not optimized for both plants and fish. So what are the realistic numbers for vegetable production per pound of fish or per sq ft of greenhouse space (vertical growing will change this latter number significantly). Is it simply ~1lb fish/ sq ft of plant growing space or can it be much higher depending on how skilled the aquaponic grower is?
As an aside, Murry can you grow freshwater sardines well in aquaponics and if so, where can you buy them?
Thanks! Rachel


Posted By rachel kulberg on Wednesday 20th November 2013 @ 13:44:39

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