Fish-Powered Agriculture: Present Condition Of Small Scale Commercial Aquaponics


In the central Texas region of the United States, Lilypad Farm started in November 2009 using the deep water raft culture invented by Dr. James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) at St. Croix. Owner-operator, Adam Harwood spawned the 2.2 acre – live where you work concept – farm adapting his 3 separate 3,000 square foot hoop houses into 23,000 gallon systems. This small scale commercial aquaponics system allows for year round production of tilapia and varieties of plants. All of this has culminated into a regional success story for sustainable agriculture.

While aquaponics is generating more and more interests, there are definite limits to be considered in the planting methods, the design elements, construction choices along with regional requirements. These combined

Nile tilapia 30 weeks old/ 480 plus grams

determining factors make the argument for a sustainable family farm lifestyle rather than large commercial farming.

The proven growing method for this type of application of aquaponics is deep water raft culture meaning grow beds with a minimum of 12 inches of water contained in any variety of geometric shapes. The flexibility and scalability of this approach to aquaponics make it a potential answer to food security concerns globally.

Adam Harwood’s family has prepared for the worst yet hope for the best by keeping a watchful eye and by applying several decades of combined real life skill sets. Their small scale commercial aquaponics system allows for year round production of tilapia and super clean , highest quality foods, that are all natural.

Their passion is quickly becoming a work of art along with a window into the endless possibilities of Aquaponics. All of this has culminated into a regional success story for sustainable agriculture.

A Lifestyle Not Just Another Business

This “home office” offers higher profits from a small-scale effort with a solid wholesale/retail sales strategy supported by-product liability insurance for the agricultural produce and a manufacturing license for the retail sales of fish, that are (skinless boneless) packed for retail sales.

Attaining the financial rewards in the market require entirely different skill sets than the production. Knowing your market and successfully placing products creates very little room for error, which points to a family run operation as the safest option in the current economic atmosphere.

 Working from home and having 24 hour control is a true benefit, making this a lifestyle. Larger size Farms pose multi-level management positions which has the potential to encumber the outcome of a commercial aquaponics venture.  The skills required to run a large-scale operation are significant and attract big salaries which can swallow the profit margins. The smaller farms are sustainable, cleaner, less likely to fail, and are not a strain on an emerging industry. Still, the super high returns from aquaponics send off bells and whistles for producers alike making it very attractive for big players to emerge.

We must remember that “anyone can buy a business”, but this is one industry that requires skilled and dedicated personnel to ensure growth. Those interested in aquaponics will serve themselves well by realizing this is upstream technology with great promise if we learn to apply it appropriately.

Superior Sustainability

Tomatoes   8/plants on a -32 sq  foort  raft  88 days =107 lbs, output

There are a number of ways to grow food using hybrid hydroponics. At Lilypad Farm, the choice is to use the same approach as the UVI system with deep water raft culture. These soilless grow beds allow for much cleaner, easier to transplant foods, that remain in their net pots until time to sell, package and distribute the product.

This means the food is still live as it goes to the end-user making it a premium, superior quality food. In the vegetable and herb food market, the freshest, most nutrient-rich, foods have the best chance of high profits. In Adam’s experience, water farming commands higher prices for its producers. Simply put, aquaponics has a place in the farm-to-fork markets and someday may represent a small portion of food supplied into the mainstream.

The great news is that this commitment to superior quality food can be recreated and achieved by any decent practitioner of the art form known as aquaponics. Fundamentally, aquaponics is a year round concept and can handle high altitudes, freezes, hot weather and even drought. It is a defendable food growing system. It has all the pluses with very few minuses making it a potential emerging solution to serve a percentage of the growing demand on world food supplies.

From a consumption standpoint, there are connections to water with very little actual usage. Also, only a few small electrical motors are used ensuring low electricity usage.

Financially, the business can be managed to can handle a profit net loss statement making it a viable and reporting form of income. Add the low startup costs and even lower replacement costs, and it’s easy to see what  makes this a whirlwind idea.


Ergonomics of aquaponic farming include both rearing of fish and plant production working towards a production critical mass for the system. This is the goal of the farm – keeping up the numbers. Each worker can only make so many plants ready per hour to install in the (growbed) system.

 Separate ergonomics are also used in the germination and management of the future crop.  Best case germination makes for superior plant selection to be transplanted. Disciplined efforts here determine the outcome during harvest.

 Fish rearing techniques are the only (ergonomic) constant from a daily management stand point.  Fish harvesting  when approaching critical mass quickly becomes a daily aspect of the process treated separately using a different ergonomic scale. Fish sales as an additional income stream can offset losses during periods of bad weather and extreme condition that might interfere with plant production.  But remember, fish are the critical factor that insures the outcome of  this style of farming. Most reports point to the plant production as the key to year-end revenue numbers, but the fish are the engine!

Unnaturally high (fish) density allows for abnormal results in the plant production offering glorious results. Firsthand knowledge and actual practice allows me authoritative license to promote Aquaponics  using the UVI methods. There are numerous global applications that may come from this  proven emerging Technology.

There are definite limits to the amount of work required to complete the ergonomic chores at hand. We do not use machines.  Nothing can replace manual labor in this field in the current practice of deep water raft farming. Art forms like this have a place in the food world.

After removing the products, the reintroduction process/cleaning process , the physical chores of maintenance, add to the ergonomics. Making for a path of understanding the practical science that makes for Small scale commercial aquaponics, to be Viable to recreate.

Sucrine /Genova  Basil   winter production 33 days in the system


Up cycling your current aquaculture farm to utilize the grow bed methods of deep water raft culture is real. This removes dangerous ammonia and certain nitrites and converts them into profits without adding a tremendous workload to an existing farm.

There are no reasons to keep you from separating the heavy solids from fish farms and either repurpose the solids or use them for a supplemental profit stream. In short, covert some space into a grow bed alongside your fish rearing tanks. The varieties of different species which can work in aquaponics is numerous. Up cycling may post profits thru Aquaponics using deep water raft culture.

Attention to detail is the pinnacle of a small-scale commercial system management. Aquaculture skills are the preeminent factor in the final analysis. Aquaponics must take a side seat to aquaculture. Still, sound practices in both fish rearing and hybrid hydroponics are the key to a best case scenario. The overall goal is to have a harmony of both co-create the environment called “Aquaponics”.

Consider this a first hand, non-biased approach to small-scale commercial aquaponics. It is a very rewarding business when following the recommended – live where you work concept.  Adam and Susan Harwood, farm nearly every day of the year while enjoying full and active pursuits in the “adventures of life”.

Research Evidence

Although the design of aquaponic systems and the choice of hydroponic components and fish and plant combinations may seem challenging, aquaponic systems are quite simple to operate when fish are stocked at a rate that provides a good feeding rate ratio for plant production.  Aquaponic systems are easier to operate than hydroponic systems or recirculating fish production systems because they require less monitoring and usually have a wider safety margin for ensuring good water quality. Operating small aquaponic systems can be an excellent hobby. Systems can be as small as an aquarium with a tray of plants covering the top. Large commercial operations composed of many production units and occupying several acres are certainly possible if markets can absorb the output. The educational potential of aquaponic systems is already being realized in hundreds of schools where students learn a wide range of subjects by constructing and operating aquaponic systems. Regardless of scale or purpose, the culture of fish and plants through aquaponics is a gratifying endeavor that yields useful products—food. (Rakocy, Masser & Losordo, 2006, pp.16)

Rakocy, J., Masser M., & Losordo, T. (2006). Recirculating aquaculture tank production systems: Aquaponics integrating fish and plant culture (SRAC Publication No. 454).

Retrieved from University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture website

Posted in Commercial Aquaponics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>