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Webster, 2006; Smither-Kopperl

and Cantliffe, 2004; Timmons et al.,


2002). When these systems are com-
bined, aquaponics closely fits the defi-
nition of sustainable agriculture because
it combines the production of plants

Reviews and animals, integrates nutrient flow


by natural biological cycles (nitrifi-
cation), and makes the most efficient
use of nonrenewable resources (Gold,
1999).
The potential for plants to use the
nutrient by-products of aquaculture
and to keep the recirculating water
clean has been well documented (Adler
et al., 1996, 2000; Lin et al., 2002).
Opportunities and Challenges to Sustainability The most common aquaponic systems
currently in use employ either a media-
in Aquaponic Systems filled raised bed, nutrient film tech-
nique, or a floating raft system for the
plants’ growing area integrated with
Richard V. Tyson1,4, Danielle D. Treadwell2, and Eric H. Simonne3 a recirculating aquaculture tank system
(Table 1). Recirculating aquaponic
ADDITIONAL INDEX WORDS. biofiltration, ammonia, nitrifying bacteria, hydroponic systems that produce both fish and
plants can accumulate dissolved nutri-
SUMMARY. Aquaponics combines the hydroponic production of plants and the ents from daily feed of fish, which
aquaculture production of fish into a sustainable agriculture system that uses approach concentrations found in hy-
natural biological cycles to supply nitrogen and minimizes the use of nonrenewable
droponic systems (Rakocy, 1997). The
resources, thus providing economic benefits that can increase over time. Several
production systems and media exist for producing hydroponic crops (bench bed, aquaponic nitrogen (N) cycle (Fig. 1) is
nutrient film technique, floating raft, rockwool, perlite, and pine bark). Critical of particular interest. Fish produce am-
management requirements (water quality maintenance and biofilter nitrification) monia (NH3), some of which ionizes
for aquaculture need to be integrated with the hydroponics to successfully manage in water to form ammonium (NH4+).
intensive aquaponic systems. These systems will be discussed with emphasis on Nitrifying bacteria in biofilters convert
improving sustainability through management and integration of the living NH3 to nitrite (NO2–) and then to
components [plants and nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosomonas spp. and Nitrobacter nitrate (NO3–) (Madigan et al., 2003).
spp.)] and the biofilter system. Sustainable opportunities include biological Plants can absorb NO3– and NH4+.
nitrogen production rates of 80 to 90 g!m–3 per day nitrate nitrogen from trickling Because N is the nutrient required in
biofilters and plant uptake of aquaculture wastewater. This uptake results in
largest amounts by plants and NO3– is
improved water and nutrient use efficiency and conservation. Challenges to
sustainability center around balancing the aquaponic system environment for the often the preferred source (Marschner,
optimum growth of three organisms, maximizing production outputs and mini- 2003), management of these systems
mizing effluent discharges to the environment. to encourage beneficial nitrifying bac-
teria has the potential to improve sys-
tem sustainability.

A
quaponics (Diver and Rinehart, potential by simultaneously producing The shortage of fresh water and
2010; Nelson, 2007) is an in- two cash crops (Diver and Rinehart, loss of prime agricultural lands to
tegrated system that links hy- 2010; Rakocy, 1999; Timmons et al., accommodate growing human popu-
droponic production (Jensen, 1997; 2002). Properly designed and well- lations will require the development of
Resh, 2004) with recirculating aqua- managed hydroponic and aquaculture new crops and new agricultural systems
culture (Timmons et al., 2002). The systems may be considered environ- to meet the demands for food, fiber,
advantages of linking crop production mentally responsible alternatives to and fuel while reducing the environ-
and the culture of fish are shared start- field-grown vegetable production mental impacts of their production
up, operating, and infrastructure costs; and wild-caught fisheries (Lim and (Fedoroff et al., 2010). The objectives
recirculating tank waste nutrient and
water removal by plants, thus reducing Units
water usage and waste discharge to To convert U.S. to SI, To convert SI to U.S.,
the environment; and increased profit multiply by U.S. unit SI unit multiply by
1
County Extension Director, Orange County Co- 3.7854 gal L 0.2642
operative Extension, Orlando, FL 32812 40.7458 gal/ft2 L!m–2 0.0245
2
0.4536 lb kg 2.2046
Assistant Professor, Horticultural Sciences Depart- 28.3495 oz g 0.0353
ment, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611
305.1517 oz/ft2 g!m–2 0.0033
3
Associate Professor and District Extension Director, 1001.1539 oz/ft3 g!m–3 0.0010
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611 1 ppm mg!L–1 1
4
Corresponding author. E-mail: rvt@ufl.edu. (!F – 32) O 1.8 !F !C (1.8 · !C) + 32

6 • February 2011 21(1)


Table 1. Selected aquaponic systems mentioned in the literature.
Hydroponic Aquaculture
System Cropz System Cropy Literature reference
Gravel bed Tomato Recirculating tank Tilapia Watten and Busch (1984)
Sand bed Bush bean, tomato, Recirculating tank Tilapia McMurtry et al. (1990)
cucumber
Sand bed Tomato Recirculating tank Tilapia McMurtry et al. (1997)
Floating raft Lettuce Recirculating tank Tilapia Rakocy et al. (1997)
NFTx Basil, lettuce Recirculation tank Trout Adler et al. (2000)
Floating raft Basil, okra Recirculating tank Tilapia Rakocy et al. (2004)
Gravel bed, floating Lettuce Recirculating tank Murray cod Lennard and Leonard (2006)
raft, NFT
Floating raft, NFT Lettuce, tomato, pepper Recirculating tank Barramundi Nelson (2007)
Perlite bed Cucumber Recirculating tank Tilapia Tyson et al. (2008a)
z
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), bush bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), lettuce (Lactuca sativa), basil (Ocimum basilicum), okra (Abelmoschus
esculentus), and pepper (Capsicum annuum).
y
Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii), and barramundi (Lates calcarifer).
x
Nutrient film technique.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,


2003).
Similar environmental issues are
present in intensive recirculating aqua-
culture systems because they maintain
system water quality in part by discharg-
ing effluent and replacing it with fresh
water at 5% to 10% of recirculating
water volume per day (Timmons et al.,
2002). Concentrations of organic mat-
ter, inorganic N, and P concentration in
the wastewater usually require in-system
or post-discharge treatment of effluents
(Gutierrez-Wing and Malone, 2006;
Shnel et al., 2002). Nutrient uptake
by plants is one of the most widely
recognized biological processes for con-
taminant removal in wastewater treat-
ment wetlands (Debusk, 1999; Mitsch
and Gosselink, 2000). Ammonium–N
Fig. 1. The nitrogen cycle in aquaponics begins with the introduction of protein removal efficiencies of 86% to 98% were
in fish feed and its excretion to form total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) in reported from a constructed wetlands
recirculating water. Ammonia (NH3) is then converted to nitrate (NO32) by system receiving aquaculture wastewa-
nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosomonas spp. and Nitrobacter spp.). Ammonium (NH4+)
ter (Lin et al., 2002). Phytoremediation
and NO32 are then taken up by plants, and two crops (plants and fish) are harvested
from the system; H+ = hydrogen ion. of aquaculture wastewater by integration
with hydroponic production is consid-
ered a potentially profitable alternative
of this study are to identify the op- and Hanlon, 1995), denitrifica- to the current expensive treatment op-
portunities and challenges affecting tion, and volatilization (Cockx and tions (Adler et al., 1996, 2000; Ghaly
aquaponic system sustainability and Simonne, 2003; Hofman and Van et al., 2005). Aquaculture wastewater
to suggest avenues for future research Cleemput, 2001). On a global scale, cleanup cost abatement alone can be a
and demonstration that will increase the recovery of fertilizer N in crop major factor in integrating hydroponic
adoption of this system by the agri- production is "50% (Eickhout et al., and aquaculture systems (Adler, 2001;
culture community. 2006). Movement of fertilizer inputs, Adler et al., 2000).
especially N, and buildup of phos- In water, NH3 exists in two forms,
Sustainability opportunities phorus (P) in the environment can which together are called the total
INTEGRATING NUTRIENT FLOWS. adversely affect natural ecosystems ammonia nitrogen [TAN (Francis-
Nitrogen budgets for conventional and the water resources they depend Floyd et al., 2009)]. The equilibrium
field-grown vegetable crops are often on (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2000). As reaction is (Campbell and Reese, 2002)
formulated with the knowledge that a result, farmers are under pressure NH4+ 4 NH3 + H+ : ½1$
a portion of these inputs may be lost to reduce or eliminate nutrient-laden
to the environment through leaching, water discharges to the environment Water temperature and pH will affect
runoff (Hochmuth, 2000; Hochmuth (Neal et al., 1996, Tyson et al., 1996; the percentage of each compound in
• February 2011 21(1) 7
REVIEWS

the TAN equilibrium. For example, sativa) floating raft systems when cor- nutrient depletion zone near the root
at 28 !C, the percent of NH3 increases rect ratios of fish feed to plant grow- surface. The capacity for continuous
by nearly a factor of 10 for each 1.0 ing area are maintained. In a romaine growth by roots, however, extends this
increase in pH and is 0.2%, 2%, and lettuce/tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) region of nutrient uptake beyond the
18% of the TAN for pH 6.5, 7.5, and floating aquaponic system, each square depletion zone. Thus, optimum nutri-
8.5, respectively (Francis-Floyd et al., meter of hydroponic growing area re- ent acquisition by plants in nature de-
2009). moved 0.83 g of total N and 0.17 g of pends on the capacity of their root
In aquaculture, the generation of total P per day. The average feed input systems not only to absorb nutrients
NH3–N in recirculating water through per unit plant growing area was found but also to grow into fresh soil.
fish waste deposition is based on the to be 57 g!m–2 per day for continuous In hydroponic production using
fish feeding rate: year-round lettuce production (Rakocy, soilless media, the media volume is
F 3 PC 3 0:092 1997). Estimates of the N require- finite and nutrient depletion can occur
PTAN = ; ½2$ ments of hydroponic vegetable plants and be recovered in the next irrigation
T
can range from 0.3 to 52 g of N event. Nitrogen depletion occurred at
where F is feed weight, PC is percent per season per lettuce or tomato (Sola- lower N (90 to 175 mg!L–1) nutrient
protein content of the feed, T is time = num lycopersicum) plant (Keener et al., solution concentrations with intermit-
1 d. 2009). A fish waste stream production tent fertigation of cucumber (Cucumis
Thus, 1 kg of fish feed with 30% rate of 90 g of N per day would support sativus) in rockwool media (Schon and
protein will produce 27.6 g of N in 4500 lettuce plants (35-d crop) or 507 Compton, 1997). Irrigation frequen-
1 d (Timmons et al., 2002). As plants tomato plants (293-d crop). cies that are sufficient to prevent water
take up NH4+, some of the NH3 is Integrating nutrient flows be- stress are not necessarily adequate to
converted to NH4+ to maintain equi- tween aquaculture and hydroponic prevent nutrient depletion except at
librium (Fig. 1). The net result is that systems turns a waste stream into a high N (225 to 275 mg!L–1) nutrient
the amount of NH3 decreases. Most crop production asset. Fertilizer costs solution concentrations. Therefore, it
of the plant uptake of N will be in the can range from 5% to 10% of total crop seems logical to propose that more
NO3– form because of the nitrification production expenses because of the frequent flushing of the media even
occurring in system biofilters. Nitrifi- large amount of fossil fuels needed with a lower N concentration solution
cation is the biochemical conversion for the manufacture of fertilizer could replenish N in the media, and if
by nitrifying bacteria of NH3 to NO3– (Hochmuth and Hanlon, 2010). It the flow was continuous, there would
(Hagopian and Riley, 1998; Madigan is possible to produce most of the be no appreciable depletion of nutrients
et al., 2003; Prosser, 1986) and is a nutrients needed to grow crops in aqua- in the root zone. This reasoning could
critical component of aquaculture bio- ponic systems through integrated nu- apply to all nutrients in the solution.
filters (Prinsloo et al., 1999). It is a trient flows with the initial input being Thus precipitation of certain nutrients
two-step process with NO3– as the re- fish feed, although some supplemen- at pH 8.0 may not limit the overall
sult:Primarily nitrosomonas species: tation with specific plant nutrients such nutritional status of the plant, provided
NH3 + 11=2O2 4 NO% + as calcium (Ca2+), potassium (K), and continuous recirculation of the nutrient
2 + H2 O + H
iron (Fe) will be required to maximize solution through the root/media zone
+84kcal mol%1 : ½3$ crop yields (Rakocy et al., 1997). Cal- occurs.
cium and K are used primarily to keep Olson (1950) was able to establish
Primarily nitrobacter species: pH at optimum levels. Aquaponic sys- that plant nutrients in hydroponic sys-
NO2% + 1=2O2 4 NO3% tems that rely solely on fish waste to tems were absorbed at a constant rate
+17:8kcal mol%1: ½4$ supply nutrients for plants have re- regardless of concentration, as long as
ported low levels of P, K, Fe, and the overall proportion and concentra-
System sizing is an important manganese (Mn) (Adler et al., 1996) tion of nutrients in solution remained
design consideration for the proper and P, sulfur (S), K, and Fe (Seawright nearly the same, and that the nutrient
integration of nutrient flow in aqua- et al., 1998) in recirculating water. solution was thoroughly mixed and
ponics. In hydroponic greenhouse Plants’ uptake of NH4+ and NO3– as was in constant contact with the roots.
production systems receiving aquacul- well as other recirculating system nu- Managing hydroponic nutrients in
ture wastewater, Adler et al. (1996) trients like P reduces the waste stream closed systems by the mass balance ap-
found that differences in nutrient re- in aquaponics and turns an environ- proach suggests that once the young
moval rates of NO3––N and P were mental liability into a biologically pro- plant has taken up a sufficient amount
dependent on plant numbers and ef- duced crop production asset. of nutrients, concentrations in the so-
fluent flow rate. If plant numbers are IMPROVING NUTRIENT USE lution can be reduced because a finite
high enough, nutrient concentration EFFICIENCY. In soils, nutrients move amount of required nutrients to grow
can decrease to levels that may be too to the surface of roots by diffusion and the crop will be either in the plant or in
low to sustain the growth of plants. bulk flow of the soil solution resulting the solution (Bugbee, 2003).
Rakocy et al. (1997) were able to es- from transpiration (Taiz and Zeiger, In a 2.5-year continuous multiple
tablish a balanced system by maintain- 2006). Concentration gradients can cropping pilot project producing lettuce
ing a large plant growing area relative form in the soil solution as nutrients using an integrated aquaponic floating
to fish production area in a commer- are taken up by the roots and the con- raft system, Rakocy et al. (1997) were
cial scale aquaponics system. Rakocy centration of nutrients at the root able to reduce the amount of N in the
(1999) indicated that sufficient N is surface is lowered compared with the nutrient solution to a concentration 3.5
available to plants in lettuce (Lactuca surrounding area. This can result in a times less than traditional hydroponic
8 • February 2011 21(1)
solution concentrations. It may be pos- aquaculture systems. With the excep- above 7.0. If aquaponic recirculating
sible to maintain optimum plant yields tion of the lettuce/tilapia floating raft water pH is maintained at levels more
when lower nutrient solution concen- aquaponic system worked out by Rakocy optimum for nitrifying bacteria [pH
trations are constantly provided to the (Rakocy, 1997; Rakocy et al., 1997, 7.5–9.0 (Hochheimer and Wheaton,
root system as is the case with recirculat- 2004), no long-term studies have been 1998)], plant uptake of certain nutri-
ing aquaponic systems compared with conducted to provide growers with firm ents may become restricted and thus
other production methods. More re- guidelines for system management. plant yield may be reduced.
search is needed to establish these re- However, research with hydro-
lationships in aquaponics. Sustainability challenges ponic and aquaponic cucumber pro-
REDUCING WATER USE AND P H AFFECTS PLANT NUTRIENT duction suggests that total yields may
DISCHARGE TO THE ENVIRONMENT . AVAILABILITY AND NITRIFICATION RATE. be maintained at pH levels above those
Designing agricultural production Combining hydroponic and aquacul- recommended for the production of
systems for zero discharge to the ture systems requires reconciling water plants, even with reduced nutrients in
environment (zero agricultural dis- quality parameters for the survival and recirculating solutions, when the nutri-
charge system) has the potential to growth of plants, fish, and nitrifying ents constantly bathe the roots (Tyson
protect groundwater, makes water bacteria. However, there are many un- et al., 2008a, b). When cucumbers
permitting easier to obtain, and will answered questions regarding the op- were grown at pH of 5.0, 6.0, 7.0,
help maintain the long-term sustain- timum water quality and chemistry for and 8.0, early cucumber yield was
ability of agricultural enterprises. the successful culture of these organ- higher at pH 5.0 compared with that
Greenhouse vegetable crops such isms together in aquaponic production. at pH 8.0 but total yield was un-
as tomato, cucumber, and pepper (Cap- In particular, a dichotomy exists be- affected by pH. Thus, cucumbers in
sicum annuum) require as much as 1.9 tween the optimum pH for plant nu- recirculating culture may be main-
L of water per plant per day near the trient availability in hydroponics [pH tained at pH levels more optimum
mature stage of growth (Hochmuth, 5.5–6.5 (Hochmuth, 2001a)] and the for nitrification (pH 7.5–8.0), except
2001a). Given recommended green- optimum pH for nitrifying bacteria during production for early season
house plant densities (Marr, 1995), activity in aquaculture biofilters [pH markets (Tyson et al., 2008b). Research
water use would be "4.5 L!m–2 per 7.5–9.0 (Hochheimer and Wheaton, with other hydroponic vegetable crops
day. Thus a single plant moving through 1998); pH 8.5 (Fig. 2)]. such as tomato and pepper is needed to
its growth stages may use between 0.5 Recommended pH ranges for the determine if pH ranges can be managed
and 1.9 L of water per day depending nutrient solution irrigation water in to accommodate nitrification and thus
on its growth stage and size and the greenhouse hydroponic production improve the sustainability of aquaponic
growing season or temperature. Water tends to be slightly acidic [pH 5.5– production.
quality in aquaculture systems is main- 6.5 (Hochmuth, 2001a), pH 5.5–6.0 A biofilter is simply a surface on
tained in part by discharging effluent (Hochmuth, 2001b), pH 5.8–6.4 which nitrifying bacteria can grow. Bio-
and replacing it with fresh water at 5% (Resh, 2004)] to avoid precipitation filters used in recirculating aquaculture
to 10% of recirculating water volume of Fe, Mn, P, Ca, and Mg to insoluble are of two main types: fixed film (at-
per day (Timmons et al., 2002). If we and unavailable salts when pH > 7. tached growth) and suspended growth
assume an average of 1.2 L of water Phosphorus deficiency causing yield (Gutierrez-Wing and Malone, 2006).
use per plant per day in a continuous reduction in hydroponic tomatoes Biological filtration can take place any-
cropping system (with early and late (Wallihan et al., 1977) and Fe defi- where in the system where recirculating
plant stages represented), 100 plants ciency with dry matter yield reduction water comes in contact with a surface
could satisfy the effluent discharge/ in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) grown to which nitrifying bacteria are attached–
freshwater replacement requirements of in solution culture (Bernardo et al., this may include tank walls, interior
a recirculating aquaculture tank con- 1984) occurred when pH levels were surfaces of pipes, and even plant roots
taining 4380 or 8760 L (at 10% or 5%
replacement, respectively) without the
need to discharge effluent to the envi-
ronment as the plant system is absorb-
ing the effluent.
Field-grown vegetable crops, in-
cluding lettuce, tomato, pepper, and
cucumber, have similar crop water
requirements based on the reference
crop evapotranspiration (Qassim and
Ashcroft, 2006). However, plant den-
sities and arrangements in hydroponics
are different from field production (Resh,
2004), and sizing the hydroponic sub-
system may depend on plant type, den-
sity, and arrangement and their effect Fig. 2. The effect of recirculating water pH on total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) loss
on water requirements. More research from tanks with perlite medium trickling biofilters after being inoculated with
is needed to establish sizing guide- nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosomonas spp. and Nitrobacter spp.). Error bars represent
lines for various hydroponic crops and ±SE (n = 8); 1 mg!L21 = 1 ppm (adapted from Tyson et al., 2004).
• February 2011 21(1) 9
REVIEWS

(Rakocy et al., 2006). Most biofiltration et al., 1999). Nitrate, the end product However, Rakocy et al. (1997) were
in recirculating systems are aerobic, of nitrification, is not toxic to fish except unable to detect any difference in
fixed-film biofilters (submerged bed, at very high levels [channel catfish tilapia growth rate, total weight, or
rotating disk, fluidized bed, and trick- (Ictalurus punctatus) 96-h LC50 (lethal survival between water exchange rates
ling). Of these, the trickling biofilter can concentration at which 50% of the fish through the biofilter of 0.55 and 1.25
also be used as a root growth medium die in 96 h) > 6200 mg!L–1 NO3–N times per hour. Could this difference
and thus many aquaponic systems use a (Colt and Tchobanoglous, 1976)], al- be the result of nutrients and water
bench media-filled bed that doubles as though some investigations suggest uptake by plants in Rakocy’s aquaponic
a trickling, flow-through or intermit- that prolonged exposure to 200 mg!L–1 system?
tent (ebb and flow) biofiltration/plant NO3–N might decrease the immune Nitrogen, the nutrient required
growth aquaponic subunit (Lennard response of some fish species (Hrubec in largest amounts for the optimum
and Leonard, 2006; McMurtry et al., et al., 1996). Nitrate is the primary (Marschner 2003) production of plants,
1997; Tyson et al., 2008a; Watten and source of N for plants in hydroponic can be supplied by fish in an aquaponic
Busch, 1984). Volumetric nitrification nutrient solutions at concentrations system (Rakocy et al., 1997). Root up-
TAN generation rates of "90 g!m–3 per from 50 to 280 mg!L–1 NO3–N (Resh, take by plants of NH4+ may be sufficient
day of biofilter volume can be expected 2004). to reduce reliance on biofilter nitrifica-
with trickling filters (Losordo et al., The size of aquaculture biofilters tion for NH3 removal when sufficient
1999). Tyson et al. (2008a) found that should be calculated based on the plants are available in aquaponic systems
removal of TAN from perlite trickling amount of NH3 added to the system. (Verhagen et al., 1994). Other research
biofilters was 19, 31, and 80 g!m–3 per This is closely related to the feeding suggests that nitrification plays a more
day for system water pH of 6.0, 7.0, and rate and efficiency of food utiliza- important role in TAN removal than
8.0, respectively (Fig. 3). Thus, the tion (Tetzlaff and Heidinger, 1990). in plants (Tyson et al., 2008a) (Fig. 3).
highest biofiltration occurred at operat- Chapman (2000) puts these aquacul- Either way, most plant species are not
ing system water pH levels above those ture feed levels for tilapia at 6% to 15% able to grow optimally with NH4+
currently recommended for hydroponic of body weight for young fish (fish as the sole source of N (Cruz et al.,
production. size <25 g) and 1% to 3% of body 2006), especially cucumber, a common
IMPORTANCE OF BIOFILTRATION weight for older fish (>25 g). NH3 is hydroponically grown crop (Chaverria
TO REDUCE NH3 AND BALANCE N usually not a problem if the biological et al., 2005; Roosta and Schjoerring,
UPTAKE. Except for oxygen, NH3 con- filters are properly sized for the load- 2007). Sufficient nitrification to con-
centration is the most important water ing rate and carrying capacity and if vert "75% of the NH3 to NO3– would
quality factor affecting fish (Francis- adequate water flow through the bio- be preferred (a ratio of 75:25 of NO3–
Floyd et al., 2009). Ammonia is the filters is maintained (Fowler et al., to NH4+) because adding some NH4+,
main excretion product from fish and 1994). McGee and Cichra (2000) compared with nitrate alone as the sole
a by-product of uneaten feed. Ammo- recommend a 3:1 fish tank to biofilter source of N, has been shown to be
nia is toxic to fish at levels above 0.05 volume ratio as being a more than beneficial to plant growth and yield in
mg!L–1 (Francis-Floyd et al., 2009). As sufficient size design for aquaculture hydroponics (Bialczyk et al., 2007;
previously discussed, nitrification is the biofilters. Hochheimer and Wheaton Cockx and Simonne, 2003; Simonne
biological process performed by nitri- (1998) recommend that the total et al., 1992).
fying bacteria that reduces NH3 from amount of aquaculture system water Plants can provide a biofiltration
the water (Gutierrez-Wing and Malone, should move through the biological role by absorbing NH4+ and thus re-
2006; Masser, et al., 1999; Prinsloo filter at least 2–3 times per hour. ducing toxic NH3 through the TAN
equilibrium (Eq. 1), but only nitrifica-
tion in the biofilter can provide the
dual role of reducing NH3 concentra-
tion through oxidation and converting
NH3 to NO3–, a necessary form of N
for optimum crop production. More
research is needed to investigate bi-
ological N production that minimizes
adverse impacts on yields of plants,
which may result from maintaining sys-
tem water quality at levels that opti-
mize nitrification rates.
THE DEMAND FOR INNOVATION
IN SUSTAINABLE AQUAPONIC SYSTEMS.
In 2008, imported fish and shrimp
Fig. 3. Total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) loss from recirculating tank water measured (Penaeus spp.) accounted for 79% of
at 24 h after introduction of ammonia (NH3). TAN loss is influenced by pH
all fish and shrimp sold domestically
and production system in an experiment with the following treatments: 6.0-aqpon,
7.0-aqpon, 8.0-aqpon = aquaponic system pH of 6.0, 7.0, and 8.0, respectively, (Jerardo, 2008). Despite the known
with plants, fish, and nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosomonas spp. and Nitrobacter spp.); health benefits of consuming fish and
6.0-hc = pH 6.0 hydroponic control with plants; 7.0-ac = pH 7.0 aquaculture vegetables, per capita consumption of
control with fish and nitrifying bacteria. Error bars represent ±SE (n = 4); 1 g!m23 = fish (fresh plus frozen) is less than 4 lb
0.0010 oz/ft3 (adapted from Tyson et al., 2008a). per year and per capita consumptions
10 • February 2011 21(1)
of fresh vegetables is 92 lb per year or meal, and peanut meal (Naylor et al., of aquaponics. We know that aqua-
less than one serving a day each (U.S. 2000). Innovation is needed to de- ponic systems management has been
Department of Agriculture (USDA) velop alternative feed sources that are established for the lettuce/tilapia float-
ERS, 2010). Increased regulatory con- nutritious, affordable, and locally avail- ing raft system, but more long-term
straints that limit wild harvest of sea- able. Economic data to guide decisions research/demonstrations should be
food to ensure supply over the long on adoption of new technology and conducted on sizing and managing other
term, in addition to federal policies and cultural practices are needed. aquaponic crop/fish system combina-
programs that support increases in per Traditionally, farming has been tions to reduce adoption uncertainty.
capita consumption of fresh produce, a rural enterprise, but due in part to Even though plants provide a ben-
have spurred a renewed interest in aqua- farmland loss and increased popula- eficial biofiltration role, nitrification is
culture and aquaponic systems. tions, agriculture is increasingly found very important for the maintenance
The USDA’s ‘‘Know Your Farmer, in urban-influenced counties (American of water quality and conversion of
Know Your Food’’ initiative includes Farmland Trust, 2009). These counties potentially harmful NH3 to NO3–.
20 grant, loan, and support programs, currently provide 78% of U.S. vegeta- We suggest system sustainability could
made possible in part by the 2008 bles and melons (Cucurbitaceae). Sys- be improved by maintaining water pH
Farm Bill funding increases, that may tems that are scalable and affordable are nearer the optimum for nitrification
directly or indirectly influence out- likely to be readily adoptable in a variety (pH 7.5–8.0) rather than the optimum
comes related to public health and of agricultural settings including urban for plant production (pH 5.5–6.5),
the economic welfare of communities farming applications. Fish processors provided plant yields are not reduced.
through improvements to farms and with USDA certification are needed in Aquaponic cucumbers were grown
food systems (Hardesty, 2010). Sour- proximity to suppliers and end-users to with recirculating water pH ranging
ces of technological advancements in facilitate sales. Several species of fish can from 6.0 to 8.0, thus increasing system
agricultural systems typically originate be produced in aquaponic systems, but nitrification rate and production of
from land grant universities’ research market research is needed to determine biologically produced NO3––N at the
and innovations of farm entrepreneurs consumer preferences and consumers’ higher pH levels, without affecting
seeking to improve the efficiency of willingness to pay for the true cost of total yield. Other hydroponic vegeta-
their own systems. Increasingly, public– the product. Profitable farming systems ble crop species should be tested un-
private partnerships for innovation are are especially important for maintaining der aquaponic conditions to determine
nurtured by federal competitive fund- farming enterprises in peri-urban areas how crop yields are affected by oper-
ing. A search of the term ‘‘aquaponics’’ to ensure sufficient domestic food sup- ating at pH levels more suitable for
in the USDA Current Research Infor- ply (Council for Agricultural Science biofilter nitrification to maximize long-
mation System revealed that only $7 and Technology, 2010). Current and term sustainability.
million in federal funds has been award- pending food safety regulations may Balancing the aquaponic system
ed to aquaponics projects since 2000, limit farmer access to indirect market environment for the optimum growth
and many of these programs include channels such as mass market retailers of three organisms will be an on-going
public–private partnerships. Clearly, and farm-to-school networks. To cap- subject of research and refinement.
there are many more improvements to ture these markets, aquaponic farmers Further aquaponic systems’ adoption
be made to these systems, and there is should take the initiative to insure they will require more public and private
ample opportunity for research and receive the proper training to develop resources to close many knowledge
outreach programs from federal re- farm food safety plans and are prepared gaps in properly managing these sys-
search dollars. to comply with third party certification tems and successfully marketing their
Because of public concerns over programs and audits. products to the public.
energy and water use in agriculture,
technological and cultural innovations Conclusion
that reduce the ecological footprint of In aquaponics, the grower needs Literature cited
aquaponic systems will be welcomed. to understand the fish system and the Adler, P. 2001. Overview of economic
Engineering advancements to reduce crop system and must integrate be- evaluation of phosphorus removal by
overall water use, application of alter- tween them. Aquaponics can be a sus- plants. Aquaponics J. 5:15–18.
native energy sources to power pumps tainable agricultural production system. Adler, P.R., J.K. Harper, F. Takeda, E.D.
and heaters, and increased precision of Most plant nutrients can be derived Wade, and S.T. Summerfelt. 2000. Eco-
temperature and humidity through im- from fish feed through fish digestion/ nomic evaluation of hydroponics and other
proved structure design and controls excretion and biofilter nitrification, thus treatment options for phosphorus removal
will improve efficiency (Conservation integrating nutrient flow. Plants can act in aquaculture effluent. HortScience 35:
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Lennard and Leonard, 2006; Losordo that would otherwise be discharged to Adler, P.R., F. Takeda, D.M. Glenn,
and Westerman, 2007). the environment. The difficulty in find- and S.T. Summerfelt. 1996. Utilizing
The energy costs related to the ing a median growing environment byproducts to enhance aquaculture sus-
production, processing, and distribu- among plants, fish, and nitrifying bacteria tainability. World Aquaculture 27:24–
tion of fish feed are unknown, but culture in aquaponics has resulted in less 26.
expected to be significant. When stock- integration of the systems than would American Farmland Trust. 2009. Farming
ing rates are high, fish are provided be ideal for maximizing space and in- on the Edge Report. 21 June 2010.
feed that generally is high in protein frastructure, thus reducing the poten- <http://www.farmland.org/resources/
supplied by soybean meal, cottonseed tial overall adaptability and profitability fote/default.asp>.
• February 2011 21(1) 11
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