WisconsinAquaculture.com - Aquaculture could add assortment to agriculture operations
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Aquaculture could add assortment to agriculture operations

By Jeffrey Hoffelt, Livestock Editor Thursday, September 2, 2010 12:21 PM CDT

Are you fishing for a way to insert diversity into your operation?
If so, aquaculture could help you move away from a solo species business. Fish production can utilize existing water sources, fertilize crops and add sought-after products to a business portfolio.
A recent beginning aquaculture workshop, sponsored by the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association (WAA), in Fifield showed that aquaculture, or fish production, is a growing sector in Wisconsin agriculture n and it can be a profitable venture if proper planning is performed before bringing in the swimming livestock.
Sarah Kaatz, UW-Extension aquaculture outreach specialist stationed at the UW-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility, broke the term down at the nationally attended event.
Aquaculture, by definition, is the farming of aquatic organisms, including: fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants, she explained. It is a very, very diverse industry in Wisconsin. The 2,350 registered farms [with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)] range from trout and bluegill to tilapia, kelp and oysters. We have farmers who produce for game fishing, lake stocking and to sell as food.
DATCP estimates that these producers generate close to $14 million dollars in economic activity for the state. Surprisingly, Wisconsin has more certified aquaculture veterinarians than any of its 49 counterparts.
By the production numbers, trout is the primary species raised in Wisconsin, ranking ninth in the nation for production. The state also ranks sixth for fish that are raised for restocking private and state waters and places second in the country for bait fish production.
After being raised to market size, the fish grown for consumption are sold to larger conglomerates, sold privately to direct buyers or fished recreationally by fishermen, she said.
Depending on the chosen species and management styles, Jim Held, UW-Extension aquaculture outreach specialist for the southern part of Wisconsin, estimates that producers can generate an income of up to $30,000 per acre.
However, start-up costs can be high and the type of system must be highly considered beforehand.
The researchers clarified that there are four primary types of aquaculture systems: ponds, raceways (long, narrow waterways with continuous flowing water), recirculating aquaculture systems (they reuse water in a complete indoor tank set-up) and aquaponics (the symbiotic cultivation of crop and fish production).
Some of the structures, like the recirculating system, can become very complex.
Its a self-sustaining system, Kaatz said. You start with fish in a culture tank. The water comes in and creates a current that helps to self-clean. The water is then pumped into a biofilter where the bacteria are broken down into nitrogenous waste, and the water goes back into the tank.
Aquaponics also makes use of the used water, but this time to grow plants without soil.
Aquaponics is about vegetable production, Held said. The fish are there for fertilizer, so it's all about balancing how much fish food and how many vegetables are in the system. If you have too many plants, they won't have enough fertilizer. If you have too many fish, the plants cannot clean the water.
With the correct balance though, Held praises aquaponics for being highly water conservative and for producing sought-after vegetables.
The most profitable are the herbs - basil and parsley - and the leafy vegetables, he said. The fish are the byproduct. The profit - and it's big - is in the vegetables. Aquaponics is growing, and it will continue to grow. I am sure that it will be a major food source in the next 20 years, especially in urban areas.
But before heading over to the nearest hatchery to stock up on bluegills, the aquaculture experts encourage the development of solid management and business plans.
The first step is to determine which system best fits the operation.
You need to figure out what you have available, and match the system and species with what you need, Kaatz encouraged.
Water type choices can primarily be made based upon available space and resources. The different needs of fish should also be considered beforehand. The extension experts recommend researching fish species online and talking with other producers to see what best fits the location and management tactics.
The site Aquanic is a great resource, Held advised. It offers species by species outlooks, shows how species are grown and gives potential problems that are common. Networking with fish farmers is important, too; it's silly to make the same mistakes.
Once the idea is put into action, he encouraged starting off small until a successful routine is established. He added that once the fish begin to thrive, managing the operation is relatively simple and economical, as 1.5 pounds of feed converts to 1 pound of gain on the fish.
Growing fish is easy. That's why it's so attractive, Held pointed out. The problem is having a business plan so that you can sell the fish profitably.
To ensure profit, the focus should be on singling the product as something special.
Selling wholesale is a big mistake. Sell directly to the end user by finding a hole in the market, he recommended. Convenience, quality, price, a feel-good factor: all of these buzz words mean dollars.
Still, the industry is highly regulated by the government, with permits required for many of the steps along the way.
Though it is worth it in the end, aquaculture has tremendous regulations to get started and keep going, said Ron Johnson, UW-Extension aquaculture outreach specialist. Every time you add something of value to the operation, there's likely a new level of regulations to adhere to.
The complicated array of government rules, along with advice for novice and interested aquaculturalists, will be discussed at the next WAA beginning aquaculture workshop planned for Sept. 25, 2010 in Juneau. Visit Wisconsin Aquaculture for more information on adding aquaculture to your agriculture operation.

 

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