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Aquaponics takes fish, nutrients and a lot of sweat

by Graeme Hammer
Published: Last Updated on
Agriculture & Farming News & Updates

A program that emphasizes water-based sustainable agriculture is coming into its second decade at Lake Superior State University. What started as a testbed for economical Atlantic salmon micro-farming has branched into something that taps the skills of computer engineers to geneticists, all circling around the notion of backstopping the country’s food supply.

The goal that launched the LSSU aquaculture lab in 2012 was to design a mini farm that could grow salmon not on the scale of huge operations based on sea inlets and fjords but in 1,000-gallon tubs on any landlocked farm that also grew other kinds of livestock, raising fish as a side gig.

A pilot system revolved around developing a large closed-loop tank where the only thing a farmer needed to add, aside from water and solar-generated electricity, was food for fish he raised from fry to fingerling and then sold as a commodity to larger operations.

“Our students won the Judges Choice award from the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge in 2014,” recalled Barbara Evans, LSSU biology professor and, from the outset, lead advisor for aquaculture and aquaponics projects at LSSU. “We rolled the prize money from that into building a hoop house (a type of outdoor greenhouse) with tanks to grow fish.”

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After prototyping systems and winning recognition, the initiative ran into the costly economics of running such an operation, said Evans. So instead of growing fish – aquaculture – the testbed now supports broader research into aquaponics, the applied science of growing consumable plants and vegetables in water that sustains fish as well.

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