Economic Evaluation of Aquaponics

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $7,475.22
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal summary:

    Studying the economics of aquaponics in the year-round holistic production of food as part of a farm expansion or stand alone venture. I have a degree in Agricultural Education from Iowa State University and was active in 4-H and FFA. After college I moved back home and started farming with my father. Dad and I have farmed together for almost 20 years. We have a diverse operation of corn, soybeans, and small grains (oats, wheat, rye, buckwheat), hogs and cattle. We converted the crops and cattle to organic beginning in 2000. And, we have been certified organic thru the Iowa Department of Land Stewardship (IDALS) since 2000. The operation includes about 2000 acres of crops and pasture all certified organic. The 200 head cow/calf operation is also all certified. Dad and I have always understood the systems approach to farming with the value of crop rotations, cover crops, and livestock management in a holistic and sustainable operation. Converting to organic additionally showed us the value of eliminating pesticides in a sustainable holistic operation. Rotational grazing has added sustainability to the cattle operation. I am looking at vegetable production as an expansion of the farming operation to add more diversification and stability to our operation. While overseas with the military, I was exposed to aquaponics (aquaculture is raising fish. And, hydroponics is raising plants without soil, Aquaponics is combining the two to form a system in which the fish provide nutrients for the plants and the plants "clean" the water for the fish in a circulating enclosed system.) Aquaponics seems to be an efficient and holistc system that can produce vegetables without pesticides and/or lots of labor and meets our values to be part of our operation. It is also a way to expand and diversify the farm if we lose rented row crop and pasture ground thru urban expansion or landlord decisions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Problem: Is aquaponics economically feasible as a year round holistic source of food? Small vegetable producers and CSAs have always seen a down turn in production and profitablity during winter months and struggle with the cost of labor in production. Aquaponics has the potential to solve these problems. However, more research is needed in inputs and operational challenges as aquaponics moves from research and hobby systems to profitable and sustainable farming operations. In addition, with urban sprawl and the decrease in the amount of land available for food production, aquaponics has the potential to raise food in an urban setting without using potentially harmful pesticides and without dangerous water pollution or soil erosion.

    Solution: My goal is to study the start up costs of a year-round aquaponics greenhouse and monitor the operational inputs and outputs for the first couple years. I plan on monitoring everything that effects cost and production including electricity, water, labor, and capital. And make this available thru Practical Farmers of Iowa, Extension Services and Local Youth organization using tours, publications and field days. The goal is to provide information on economics and production during the startup phase and thru the first couple of years, so other farmers (new and established) can use my information to make solid informed decisions.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.