Using Aquaponics with Renewable Energy Resources to Create Sustainable Food Systems while Reducing Nutrient, Energy, and Water Costs

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2010: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Matt Johnson
Sustain Pro Management
Harry Ako
University of Hawaii


  • Animals: fish


  • Animal Production: feed rations, mineral supplements
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, solar energy
  • Production Systems: holistic management


    In Hawaii, lettuce production grew five-fold last year, and 80% of the tomatoes eaten were homegrown (National Agricultural Statistics Service, NASS). The producers responsible for this are project participants, and NASS attributed the increases to aquaponics and hydroponics. This produce was grown in recirculation systems, and precious fuel was not used in transporting it from the mainland. The University generated practical aquaponics technology and extended it to industry. All participating producers were introduced to sustainable agriculture and, arguably, the most successful built the largest aquaponics farm in the world.


    Aquaponics is the symbiotic production of vegetables and fish. The project may be understood by participants via the Nutrient Flux Hypothesis (Baker 2010). Fish feed is fed to fish who metabolize it. They release the metabolites into the water where they are further metabolized by bacteria, and the products of this metabolism are taken up by plants and nourish them. Plants clean the water which is returned to the fish. Aquaponics is especially suited to island or urban environments because it produces three times the vegetables per unit area of land as conventional agriculture (Resh 2004) and uses only 1% of the freshwater used by traditional aquaculture (Rakocy 1989). Rakocy et al. (2004) developed aquaponics and receives credit for this. Its adaption by producers languished for 15 years. We have taken it upon ourselves to work out some of the fine details of aquaponics, to make it economically practical and to extend it to the public. This was initiated at a workshop/field day attended by more than 180 people (Appendix 2). At the workshop, the first draft of the workshop manual was handed out (Ako and Baker 2000).


    Ako, H. and A. Baker. 2009. Small-scale lettuce production with hydroponics or aquaponics. College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Publication No. SA-2. University of Hawaii, Manoa, Hawaii, USA.

    Baker, A. 2010. Aquaponics systems are governed by Nutrient Dynamics. Master’s Thesis. University of Hawaii at Manoa.
    Rakocy, J. E. 1989. Vegetable hydroponics and fish culture - a productive interface. World Aquaculture 20:42-47.

    Rakocy, J. E., D. S. Bailey, C. Shultz, and E. Thoman. 2004. Update on tilapia and vegetable production in the UVI aquaponic system. Pages 676-690 in R. Bolivar, G. Mair, and K. Fitzsimmons, editors. New dimensions in farmed tilapia: Proceedings from the 6th International Symposium on Tilapia in Aquaculture. Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Manila, Philippines.

    Resh, H. M. 2004. Hydroponic food production: A definitive guide for the advanced home gardener and commercial hydroponic grower, sixth edition. New Concept Press, Inc., Mahwah, New Jersey.

    Project objectives:

    a. Establish five demonstration sites.

    b. Conduct research to develop management tools for farmers. This would allow simple and straightforward chemical assessment of how well farmers are doing with aquaponics.

    c. Create a step-by-step guidebook to allow each producer to succeed with aquaponics.

    d. Prepare a video that would allow step-by-step instruction as to how to generate an aquaponics business.

    e. Conduct at least two field days at demonstration sites.

    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.