My name is James, and I am really excited to have found this group and Aquaponics! My journey started just over a year ago when I was looking for a growing solution for our new farm. We live in the Algarve, in southern Portugal and took the leap into a different way of life, buying our homestead of 32 acres after growing tired of working in the real estate and restaurant sectors for 20 years.
At first, we thought we would build a retreat centre but soon realised we didnt want to be so involved in hospitality anymore, rather, ‘hospitable’ but not hospitality!!
I started looking for different things to grow as I have no experience in farming and I thought some tower farm system with hydroponics sounded quite funky! After watching a few videos on Youtube, there was a link on the right to an Aquaponics farm in the States which I watched, and from that moment I was amazed by the idea of AquaP! So, research continued and I bought a few books on amazon which then led me to Murray Hallam in Australia, and his online course ‘Aquaponics Design Course’ which I quickly signed up for last march.
Being completely new to the topic and farming in general, he really inspired me with the concept and possibilities whilst remaining simple and not reliant on masses of technology, letting nature do her thing! So, I submitted my design for a small commercial / large home system and Murray gave me a great grade and feedback, and I set about building my first mini system as a pilot project for learning and developing my future!
At the beginning of september I had completed my baby system, consisting of 1 x 1000l fish tank, 1 2x1m media bed, 1 3x1m raft bed, 1 1x1m wicking bed, settlement tank and mineralisation tank.
So far until now, I have been realising all the different elements of the system, and especially learning how to overcome pests such as caterpillars and snails, as well as germinating seeds etc.
I found the initial phase quite challenging whilst cycling my system, as there are little to no others in my area I could find with systems or knowledge to help, and access to products and materials Murray used in Australia were very different or unavailable here, but so far I am really happy with progress and have a lot of data and ideas for improvement in my future systems.
So, filled with enthusiasm and a new passion for aquaponics, I have bored my friends and family senseless and am currently going ahead with market research in my area to build a larger commercial system. I have purchased a greenhouse of 1,200m2 although I think I will develop this in 2 or 3 stages as I establish myself and to keep the systems modular depending on the demand.
I would love to hear anyone elses experiences with a startup and here is a small list of what i feel are my challenges and opportunities ahead…
Portugal does not really understand aquaponics and has very tight aquaculture laws on species etc so it is challenging to get information and assistance from the government or official bodies. I am urrently using Koi carp but would really like an edible option in the future.
The population is small, just 10m people, with only 400k across the southern coastline which stretches about 100km. This makes volume of sale to open minded clients more limited.
Portugal and the Algarve is a very touristic destination so there is a large transient population during peak and low seasons, so reliable sales is tough to secure. Throughout Covid, the previous booming tourism sector has been hit hard, so a lot of potential customers in restaurants and hotels are not as available as before. The national market is available but in the south they are generally quite low income households.
There is not an established network of aquaponics practitioners to help with advise, marketing, awareness, and even materials supply, so things can be costly and time consuming as I will have to introduce the concept to a lot of ‘virgins’
The current price of construction materials and fuel has tripled in most cases, so with a limited budget, I will now need external assistance to get things moving.
The limited knowledge and experience in the region gives me the chance to shape the product to what I want and educate a new wave of Aquaponics lovers. I am excited by this challenge and want to help others gain the knowledge to have their own system too.
The lack of population may cap the overall scale of the system, but I believe with the principal of aquaponics being local and low impact on resources, it also allows for every town or area to have a farm or farms to serve that community without the need for huge infrastructures and carbon footprints.
We have on average 300 days of sunshine per year and a very mild temperate climate, so conditions for growing are very good, and the availability of solar power makes it a really viable solution to operate the system at zero emissions and cost after initial investment.
The population, although with a reasonable agriculture background, seems very open to the organic, sustainable and renewable methods of production and they are prepared to pay a premium for quality.
I would like to take the opportunity of this pandemic to use aquaponics as an educational tool in schools so they can realise where good quality food comes from which will benefit their immune system as well as provide an income and food security for themselves in the future. They could use a small system to supplement their school lunches, or sell to their parents giving them their own farmers market and a lesson in commerce!
We are in our winter now, so although mild, I am taking the opportunity to research and plan the greenhouse build and phase one of the system. Initially, products will be lettuce based in rafts with media beds supporting other products, such as beans, tomatoes, eggplant, and others. I am thinking the first system will be something like 6 rafts of 20m x 1m and about 24 2x1m media beds. This will give me growing area around 168m2 with approx. 3,360 raft growing spaces. This would occupy one of my tunnel lengths (30x10m) once considering walkways, fish tanks and filters etc. and I have capacity of 4 x this amount or more with a larger module design.
My goals are not to rock the stock market, but I would like the system to pay back in 2 - 3 years if possible, and give me a satisfying income to enjoy and use as an education to others as well. We also started a health food brand locally this year and my wife is a nutrition consultant so our aim is to build a workshop kitchen and some accommodation so people can visit for courses and a break from town as well, so the financial drivers for aquaponics are there, but not perhaps the same as others may view.
Our company is ‘Roots - Living Wellness’ so that is what we do, go back to our roots, and live a life full of wellness.
Thank you for those who managed to make it to the end of this long intro and I hope to learn a lot from you all and contribute wherever and whenever I can.
All the very best to all in the year ahead.