Saturday, June 22, 2013

Aquaponics Is: The Major Problem We Solve

One of the major problems solved by The Family Fish Farms Network, Inc  is Aquaponics itself!  In addition to this blog, I am moderator of the Commercial Aquaponics Group on Linkedin.   The group is over a year old and we have around 800 members 40% or so are active growers.  The membership is a global one and we have representation from most continents and climates, from Shanghi to Khazakstahn.

In America There Are NO Profitable Aquaponic Businesses!

Our definition of Commercial Aquponics is a business that is profitable (if you''re not profitable you cannot by definition be sustainable)  We define achievement of commercial success as making a profit from growing operations only with a profitable P&L and without consulting, training, or equipment sales and surely without subsidies of any kind.

How Can This Be?  Aquaponics is Cool and Hot!

Yes... Aquaponics is both Cool and very, very HOT!  Aquaponics is the hope and the future of food on this planet.  It is close to a permaculture solution to the food chain problem,  It is a recirculating system it reuses all water.  First, the availability of fresh, nutrition dense food problem (25 million Americans have no access to fresh food)  the water consumption problem (70% of all water is used by agriculture) the nitrate pollution of streams and rivers problem, (aquaponics uses the natural nitrates produced by fish and then reuses the water)  In addition, aquaponics provide both vegetables and high quality fish protein as well.

Aquaponics Does NOT Scale!

There are several problems but let's start with the simple one.  Aquaponics does not scale from a small test system a, proof of concept, or learning system to a commercially viable food production system.  They must be two separate processes.  When you finish proving you can do it and understand the principles involved.  You have to throw away the equipment and start again.  Most people don't ever get it and never  will!

It's Just Like Baking Cookies

If you want to bake a dozen cookies or so for your family, you buy or make a bowl of cookie dough, roll it, cut out the cookies, place them on a flat pan and put them in the oven in your kitchen.   However, if you want to bake 5,000 dozen cookies for your neighborhood, it is an order of magnitude difference. One cannot buy 5,000 bowls and 5,000 cookie sheets and what will you do for ovens?

The same is true for an aquaponics system.  It is not like Leggos.  You can't buy a small hobby system and then scale up by linking 50 or more of them together.  To make a commercial batch of cookies one needs a large indusrial commercial mixer, a transfer line, hydrostatic cookers, packaging equipment, etc, etc.  So, one problem is the erroneous assumption that scaling can be accomplished simply by growing the first system larger .... NOT.

Aquaponics is Not Profitable on a Small Scale

A small under one thousand square foot green  house is not a profitable aquaponic operation.  If you cannot sell to the large retailers in your community you will not be profitable by our definition.  You can augment your income perhaps but you will not be able to sustain your family and employees on that income alone.

To sell to the large retailers you have to be able to produce a high quality, cosmetically attractive, product on demand and with total consistency.  If you fail once you will lose the contract and you won't get it back.  There's more to it but that's it for now.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Aquaponics a Tool for Community Economic Development

The Family Fish Farms Network, Inc. (The Network) believes that, in addition to providing fresh, nutrition dense, healthy local food, Aquaponics can also provide the lynchpin for urban revitalization and community economic development as well.  It makes both environmental and economic  sense to grow food closer to where it will be consumed, that shipping it thousands of miles from farm to table.  The average head of lettuce for example travels 1,500 miles to get into your salad.

All Food is Local Food
Distributive production of local food is the answer to food security and job security.  Instead of building huge food factories (Corporate Farms & AgriBiz) it makes better sense to build small focused farms within and around the inner cities!  It is important to note that there exists a strong pent up demand for local fresh food and seafood.  A recent study by Karp Associ in one small midwest city showed a $300 million dollar pent up demand for food grown within the city (local food)

How to Fund Development
A network of urban aquaponic farms utilizing unproductive existing urban structures (even brownfield sites work  (Aquaponics does not use the local soil to grow) City administrations can leverage federal programs (Community Development Block Grants, New Market Tax Credits, Industrial Development Bonds, etc)  along with civil society and anchor private businesses to create a public private partnership that can provide the economic resources needed to fund the new enterprise.

Community and Worker Ownership
There are several business models that can further leverage economic participation by the community and the workforce.  One is the Cooperative, as this enables the company to extend the benefits of profitable operations to each and every member of the workforce and/or community.  The second and most interesting is the ESOP where specific provisions in the tax code and ERISA laws enable an ESOP to borrow money from commercial banks and then, pay not federal taxes until the funds are repaid and each employee fully vested.  Each worker an owner of the business!

Now that's Community Economic Development!  If you want to learn more leave a comment and I will respond!