US: University of New Hampshire launches aquaponics project

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have launched an integrated aquaculture farming research project that aims to provide a model for integrating land-based aquaculture systems with hydroponic plant production systems that can be used locally to increase food production.

NH Agricultural Experiment Station researcher Todd Guerdat, assistant professor of agricultural engineering, is leading the project at the Kingman Research Farm, an experiment station facility in Madbury.

“Over half of the world’s seafood is produced from aquaculture. Eighty percent of the seafood we eat here in the United States is imported resulting in nearly an annual $11 billion trade deficit for seafood alone. We need to take control of our food production systems by developing a sustainable U.S.-based aquaculture industry,” Guerdat said.

Specifically, researchers are evaluating nutrients for plants growing in a recirculating aquaponic system that come from the food fed to fish. Using three identical greenhouses, researchers will look at different protein levels in fish feed, and potentially different protein sources, as a way to determine if higher protein diets are more beneficial for plant production or not, or if a different protein source produces different plant-available nutrients in the system.

“In an age where growing, buying, and eating locally improves food security for all, food production systems that are sustainable economically and environmentally are more important than ever. Recirculating aquaponic businesses are already in action here in New Hampshire and the Northeast. However, there are a great many questions that still remain. How do you match the fish and plant production systems? How big should each be? What are realistic production estimates for business plan development? What is the most efficient design for a recirculating aquaponic system? This research aims to answer all of these questions so anyone – a farmer or individual grower – can take the results and apply them directly to their own application,” Guerdat said.

He explained that integrated farming systems improve energy and resource utilization, and offer an opportunity to monetize otherwise costly treatment processes. Recirculating aquaponic systems are an ideal integrated farming model that produce fish and plants for food locally and sustainably. However, to ensure the sustainable development of an integrated recirculating aquaponic system that produces vegetables and herbs using excess nutrients from finfish production, renewed engineering principles must be applied to develop sound system design guidelines for realistic productivity estimates and economic sustainability.

“As an integrated farming system model, aquaponic systems offer the potential for addressing the need for improved economic and environmental sustainability in the production of seafood using recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). Through the integration of hydroponic plant production, aquaponic systems restructure the typical RAS production and effluent stream treatment from an end-of-pipe treatment model to an internalized, integrated production process flow,” Guerdat said.

Guerdat has received extensive support and interest from the community for his research project. “We have been overwhelmed with questions, offers for volunteering, and general expressions of support from many, many wonderful people. We are looking forward to bringing the results to on-campus presentations for more folks to see and enjoy,” he said.

“As a researcher, you are always looking forward. The implications of your research should always provide a foundation for others to grow. Through working collaboratively with biological, economic, social, and environmental researchers, I want to play a role in the development of a U.S.-based agricultural industry that will carry us into the next 100 years sustainably and productively,” he said.

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