According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. A whopping 80% crash and burn. Main reason as it appears, is that they run out of cash. But this is not the main reason, in fact, the reason for failure starts right at the beginning. This is a scary thought when one decides to drop his or her current day job to become an urban farmer, using aquaponics. Lets analyse what we should be doing in order to avoid being part of the 80%.
How to invest if you can't afford to loose?
There is nothing further from truth and to remediate to this, invest only what you have and not one penny more. IN most trend, we see early adopters jump in, chasing profit and forgetting the basic rules of the land, so to speak. Like any venture, aquaponics farming is a business with lots of risks and if not taken into consideration will certainly ruin your investment. So my two cents in that matter would be to start small using your hands to build your installation or buy an off-the-shelf unit that is not going to brake your budget and that you can expand on.
Do it yourself
The internet is full of treasures when it comes to ideas of how to build an aquaponics system. Take your pick. You can even buy plans from a reputable aquaponics professional. Let say you keep budget low and you decide to copy what is available online. Here is what you can do to get started:
You have the choice between the basic IBC system, see our Backyard Aquaponics system and you can go with two or three variant of this method. Single IBC, two IBCs or the Barrelponics or, if you are in an apartment, see our Kitchenponics© .
The last method and the most economical will be the Nutrients Film Technique aka NFT. This requires little investment but some environmental controls such as a shade cloth and a water temperature thermometer. Plants growing in NFT systems require to be in part shade due to the fact that water runs through PVC pipes and direct sunlight would heat up the water in the system and kill the plants.
The Chop aquaponics system or what we call our Backyard unit is by far the easiest method to start aquaponics for everyone, even if you are in an apartment. It is also the most productive method on a small scale like this since you are not limited by the planting space, compared to the NFT.
Off the Shelf units
Aquaponics becoming more and more popular, many companies develop small indoor or outdoor units, ready to grow systems. It can be confusing and difficult to achieve good production with such small units. It is really for beginners on a budget with small space available to dedicate. Even a company like IKEA is spending some R&D money into developing domestic aquaponics systems. Our Kitchenponics© is actually in part inspired from IKEA.
Try, fail, repeat...
You need to be flexible and adaptive this will set you apart from your competitors.
The idea behind starting small is that you can really develop a good knowledge and understanding of what works and what doesn't work for you. You can appreciate the production capacity and also the cost of running such and such system. Collecting data will be very helpful in the long run and it is something that is often neglected but very valuable.
Also, remember that rules and regulation apply and aquaponics is not exempt, au contraire, it is actually highly regulated since it is considered new and you are supplying people with food.
Climatic conditions are what they are where you live and if you buy a system from someone living in Alaska, it may not work in your particular climate. Adapt and overcome, it is not an easy route but very rewarding.
Since you envisioned to become a commercial farm, you will need to purchase large equipment and most likely a greenhouse. All this experience you will gain by learning aquaponics at a small scale, the climate and your productivity, you will save a ton of money.
"know your farmer" this is the phrase that keeps coming back lately. We want fresh organic produce grown by a cool guy/gal who knows what he/she is doing and is very friendly. The network will build at the beginning will follow you all the way to the day you become what you've dreamed off: aquaponics farm XYZ.
People trust others because there is a relationship established already. So it is difficult at first but hang in there and be cool, be approachable, be opened to critics and suggestions. After all, you are a beginner and there seasoned aquaponics farmers out there, very happy to welcome competition as this keeps the business healthy.
Yo have to build an ecosystem around your product and keep growing the network. Meet suppliers and partners, like fish farms, electricians, plumbers etc... Again, here is the time to ask questions and learn from your network. This is the law of the land.
Do your homework
Instead of me telling you what to grow, you should think about what you would like to eat and/or sell.
Certain crop, mostly leafy greens, do not mind if your aquaponics system is mature or not, whereas, fruiting plants like cucumbers, tomatoes prefer a mature and established microbiology.
As we discussed already, the climate in which your aquaponics journey will start, will define the type of crops and fish that you will be able to grow. Be aware also of the local regulations. Some species of fish are totally forbidden to have, as considered as invasive. These are factors you must take into account as you put your plan to the paper and this is a very important part of your project: make a plan.
For commercial application we recommend to start with a small backyard/pilot system, one that would replicate more or less what your dreamed farm would be in order to gather usable data. As I mentioned, permits and other authorizations are often necessary, even for pilot project, specially if you are planning to start distributing your produce.
If you decide to keep it domestic and just feed your family, as long as your landlord (if you rent) is OK with you messing with the garden, you're good to go. Any ornamental fish will do and some hatcheries near you can most likely supply with edible fish. If your only option is to have the system indoor, make sure to choose one with supplemental lighting, your herbs and veggies will thank you for it.
IN conclusion, realistic design and investment with reasonable expectations (start small and spend what you can afford to loose) will bring you one step closer to success. Commercial farming is not an easy life and with aquaponics, it is even more difficult. Think about it for a second, if it was so easy and economical, don't you think that there would be more aquaponics farms?
I am a French expat, married, dad of one, nature lover and firm believer of sustainable living. My background is leisure and tourism industry. I fell into aquaponics and now I am sharing with you my adventure.