Fish Farmers - Growing more food with less through aquaponics

At Fish Farmers, we are all about growing more food with less. Less water, less energy, less environmental foot print. Not only are we more sustainable but we are also more profitable.

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About This Innovation

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Europe and Eurasia
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How does your innovation work?

Sustainability through integration

At Fish Farmers we are all about researching, developing and demonstrating different methods of growing more food with less. Primarily growing food with less water, but also less electricity, less capital and less overall environmental foot print than comparable alternatives.

There are so many ways of integrating different forms of agriculture to increase production and reduce the environmental foot print, below are two of the easiest. Both involve aquaculture because the integration of aquaculture yields the biggest benefits in production and efficiency.

Integrated Aquaculture

It is rather counter intuitive, but when farming fish the fish barely use any water at all.

Why then do fish farms need so much water?

The reason for this is when fish are farmed, just like any other animal, they produce a lot of waste. It is not the fish on a fish farm that use lots of water, but the farmer using the water to flush the waste out of the fish tanks. Water coming out of a fish farm is fishy sewerage which is why stand-alone aquaculture can have such a huge environmental impact. Either the waste pollutes the environment or masses of energy is expended processing the waste.

It’s a standard practice in industrial ecology to look at wastes and work out how to turn them into resources. For aquaculture, all we need to do is to integrate it with irrigation. The water gets used three times once for the fish, once for irrigation and once more to distribute fertiliser to the crop.

Integrating aquaculture with irrigation goes a long way to producing more food with less water, but farmers are still at the mercy of the weather. While farmers can produce more when water is available they are still vulnerable to drought.

Aquaponics

Aquaponics is the popular name for a form of integrated agriculture, where aquaculture is integrated with hydroponics. An aquaponics system can produce meat (fish) with almost ZERO water use and get the same water efficiencies as a hydroponics operation without the need for an energy guzzling desalination plant.

Since the water from the fish contains valuable fertiliser (resource, not waste) and the hydroponically grown plants essentially clean the water so it can be returned to the fish. Therefore water never ever needs to be thrown away. The additional element to this is a complex ecosystem of microorganisms and invertebrates which include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, worms, micro crustaceans and many more, which break down and process the waste from the fish releasing nutrients to the plants.

Aquaponics:

  • greater than 95% water saving;
  • 100% elimination of petro chemically derived nitrogen based fertilisers;
  • greater than 70% electricity savings;
  • ~30% less capital;
  • increased plant and fish health;
  • increased plant and fish growth; and
  • reduced environmental footprint.

This means that just like a Hydroponics system equipped with a desalination plant Aquaponic production is not limited by water, but rather by energy, capital and expertise.

At Fish Farmers we are first going to demonstrate how effective and productive integrated agriculture can be. Once we have shown how water does not need to limit agricultural production, we will then help farmers overcome the limits placed upon them by energy, expertise and access to capital.

The faster and better we can do this, the more we can slow the exponential increase of the environmental footprint of the agricultural industry. You can help by spreading the word and joining us on the journey.

Do you have current users or testers?

We need your help to get started NOW. The sooner we start demonstrating results the sooner we can start talking to other farmers and help them.

We already have:

  • A fully costed business plan demonstrating how we will build and grow a commercial scale aquaponics system from an initial capacity of 9.5 tonnes of fish and 30 tonnes of vegetables to 60 tonnes of fish and 200 tonnes of vegetables;
  • a growing list of small scale farmers that are interested in integrating their crop production with our fish farming;
  • a growing list of boutique food producers, artists and others that want to join us as part of an integrated farming operation and community;
  • ability to obtain finance for most of the system development subsidised by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (less than 4% interest);
  • equity from our family home to secure the finance;
  • eligibility to receive government support through the Research and Development Tax Incentive that allows us to turn $1 invested on R&D into $1.8;

Provide a status update for your Innovation.

​At Fish Farmers, we are all about growing more food with less. Less water, less energy, less environmental foot print. We do this through using the nutrients supplied by our fish to feed and super charge the growth of our crops. This can be as simple as re-using the water used to raise fish to irrigate field grown crops so that two crops may be raised with just one lot of water or the complete integration of recirculating aquaculture with hydroponics (Aquaponics). Our fish are our farming partners. 

What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?

What we need:

Land.  Or rather the deposit to buy it. Now we are quite happy to lease land but we haven’t been able to find anywhere in our target area that would give us a long term lease on suitable land.

So what we want to do is create our own landlord.

We need people to commit funds to help us buy a farm which Fish Farmers and the growing list of small scale farmers, artisinal food producers, artists and others will lease. We have some equity we can use but we don’t have enough to fund both purchasing a block of land and fund the development of our aquaponics and integrated irrigation operation.

We need seed capital for a deposit on the land and to pay for legal costs (stamp duty, conveyancing, etc.) plus people who are willing to contribute money on an ongoing basis to cover the difference between the loan repayments and the lease payments. As the number of people that join us on the farm grows and as Fish Farmers expands the need for ongoing support will cease.

What we are Offering

So to get this project off the ground people can support it by:

  • Buying a share in the land;
  • Leasing a piece of land for your self or to support someone else;
  • Investing in Fish Farmers to fund development costs not covered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation loan; and/or
  • Pre-purchasing some of our produce or the produce that others will be producing on the farm.

The land will be held by a land holding company. That means people can buy shares in the company and in effect buy a share of the land. That also means that people can freely sell their shares without having to deal with conveyancing and stamp duty issues. By investing in the land you are helping a great project get off the ground and buying something tangible of real value in and off itself.

People that use the land including Fish Farmers will lease the land from the land holding company. How much they will lease the land for will depend on what they negotiate with the shareholders of the land holding company. For example Fish Farmers can afford to pay $4000/acer per year for the land on which we will build our aquaponics system. One of the micro brewers interested in joining us on the land says they can afford $2000 per year for a 500 sqaure meter site (1/8th of an acre) with power and water to build a shed they will use for their brewing. At the other end of the scale a Holistic management grazier (alaAllan Savory) that says they can afford $100/ acre per year and we have a number of people saying they would chip in $100 three times a year for a camp site on the farm. In the middle we have a market gardener willing to pay $1000/acre/year. Every little bit will count.

We are also working on a joint venture with the Earth Worker Co-operative where the lease holders can join a Co-operative backed by Earth Worker which will foster the community on the farm and facilitate joint investment in shared resources. For example equipment that could include a forklift, tractor or anything else that was needed and infrastructure like a farm shop.

We have already opened up investment in Fish Farmers to our employees because we are committed to sharing the growth in the company with the people that will make it possible. We realise that we may need additional capital to get the project off the ground because we can’t get started until we have the land. While we can fund the development of Fish Farmers between ourselves and our employees we realise that there maybe people who are not interested in investing in agricultural land with its modest returns on investment but may be interested in the potentially much higher returns on investment possible with Fish Farmers.

Next Steps

We are currently seeking expressions of interest from people who would be interested in supporting, investing and/or joining us in a cooperative community integrated farming and tourism project on land in Central Victoria.

How can Exchange Members help you?

Advisement from local innovation groupsAssistance with the PressHelp with the marketing and socialization of the ExchangeConnect us with funding and resourcesHelp with website, social media, online strategy

Do you have a website for the innovation?

http://www.fishfarmers.com.au/

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