Category Archives: aquaculture

June 2014 Issue of National Geographic Features Aquaculture and its Challenges

The June 2014 issue of National Geographic includes a feature story on fish farming. The article is rich with information about the challenges of aquaculture, and is part of their “Future of Food” Series.

The following is an excerpt, and the full article, “How to Farm a Better Fish,” can be read by following this link.

In a dark, dank warehouse in the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia, Bill Martin picks up a bucket of brown pellets and slings them into a long concrete tank. Fat, white tilapia the size of dinner plates boil to the surface. Martin, president of Blue Ridge Aquaculture, one of the world’s largest indoor fish farms, smiles at the feeding frenzy.

“This is St. Peter’s fish, the fish Jesus fed the multitudes,” he says, his raspy voice resonating like a preacher’s. Unlike Jesus, however, Martin does not give his fish away. Each day he sells 12,000 pounds of live tilapia to Asian markets from Washington, D.C., to Toronto, and he’s planning another farm on the West Coast. “My model is the poultry industry,” he says. “The difference is, our fish are perfectly happy.”

“How do you know they’re happy?” I ask, noting that the mat of tilapia in the tank looks thick enough for St. Peter to walk on.

“Generally they show they’re not happy by dying,” Martin says. “I haven’t lost a tank of fish yet.” … [click on link above to read the rest]

The following graphic and photos are also included in the article:

Pounds for Pound
Different sources of animal protein in our diet place different demands on natural resources. One measure of this is the “feed conversion ratio”: an estimate of the feed required to gain one pound of body mass. By this measure, farming salmon is about seven times more efficient than raising beef.

Graphic and Chart by Virginia W. Mason and Jason Treat, NGM Staff; Shelley Sperry
Sources: Malcolm Beveridge, Worldfish; Rodney Hill, University of Idaho; Robert Swick, University of New England, Australia; U.K. Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

© Brian Skerry/National Geographic
Nature’s own water filters, giant Japanese scallops thrive on fish waste at an experimental farm off Canada’s Vancouver Island. The farm also uses sea cucumbers and kelp to consume excretions from nearby pens of native sablefish.

© Brian Skerry/National Geographic
Diamond-shaped fish cages rise from the water for cleaning at Open Blue, the world’s largest open-ocean fish farm, eight miles off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The divers on top pumped compressed air into the hollow central spars to raise the cages. Offshore farms could open a new food frontier.

(Excerpt and photos are from the June 2014 Issue of National Geographic)

3 Picks: Aquaponics Venture, Aging Farmer, Blueberry Mechanization

Picking Blueberries. Flickr CC via Robin.

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) A new, ambitious aquaponics venture in Watsonville, California: Donna Jones tells us that “Partners Jon Parr and Drew Hopkins are attempting to create the largest commercial aquaponics operation in the country at a former rose nursery. If all goes as planned, they’ll fill 350,000 square feet of greenhouses with fruits, vegetables and fish within 18 months, all grown in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. … Their vision is to create a self-contained operation. The aquaponics system will allow them to use far less water than conventional growers, and no fertilizer or pesticides. To control bugs, they’ll regularly infuse greenhouses with carbon dioxide, a by-product of the wood-chip burning gasification oven that will power the generator that will supply electricity. Aquaponics is so efficient, Parr said, they’ll be able to grow a head of lettuce in a month and more than four heads in a square foot, each month all year. A conventional farmer might get one head of lettuce per square foot, and two to three crops per year, he said. In three years, they’ll be able to send 15-pound sturgeon to the market as well.”

2) Who owns Iowa’s farmland? “Last year, almost one third of Iowa farmland was in the hands of someone over the age of 75. … There are younger owners, although they represent a small percentage of the acres. Over half, 56%, of the farmland in Iowa is owned by someone over the age of 65. … Absentee land ownership has declined in the last few years since the run-up in land values. In 2012, 21% of the farmland in Iowa was owned by an absentee owner.”

3) In Maine, a Switch over to the Mechanical Harvesting of Blueberries: Dave Sherwood tells us yet yet another story about machines taking over from the unpredictable reliability of immigrant labor to harvest blueberries in Maine. “Maine growers see few alternatives to mechanization, as migrant labor dries up and few Americans appear to take their place. Though the state keeps no official tally, the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission said the number of seasonal workers employed here has dropped nearly 80 percent in 15 years, to fewer than 1,000 last year. “There are people that say if we just paid more, Americans would do the work. But that’s a joke,” said Ed Flanagan, president of Jasper Wyman & Son Inc, Maine’s second-largest blueberry grower. Flanagan says hard-working pickers make as much as $20 an hour here, almost three times Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50.”

BONUS: Yesterday’s Non Sequitur Comic.

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

3 Picks: Cover Crops, Farmed Fish, Biotech Sweet Corn

Cover Crops. Photo credit: Dr. Rob Myers

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks and the focus is on California.

1) Statistics show the rapid adoption and increase in productivity with cover crops: For SARE, Rob Myers explains “During the fall of 2012, corn planted after cover crops had a 9.6% increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops. Likewise, soybean yields were improved 11.6% following cover crops. In the hardest hit drought areas of the Corn Belt, yield differences were even larger, with an 11.0% yield increase for corn and a 14.3% increase for soybeans. Surveyed farmers are rapidly increasing acreage of cover crops used, with an average of 303 acres of cover crops per farm planted in 2012 and farmers intending to plant an average of 421 acres of cover crops in 2013. Total acreage of cover crops among farmers surveyed increased 350% from 2008 to 2012.”

2) More Farmed Fish than Beef: Janet Larsen and J. Matthew Roney give us the number of tons of production of aquaculture fish versus beef. “The world quietly reached a milestone in the evolution of the human diet in 2011. For the first time in modern history, world farmed fish production topped beef production. The gap widened in 2012, with output from fish farming—also called aquaculture—reaching a record 66 million tons, compared with production of beef at 63 million tons. And 2013 may well be the first year that people eat more fish raised on farms than caught in the wild.”

3) Herbicide-resistant sweet corn by Monsanto is being introduced: Jeff Ishee tells us “In a recent statement, the company touted the environmental benefits of biotech sweet corn, saying “these products have the potential to create sustainable improvements in sweet corn farming through the better use of resources and less reliance on chemical pesticides.” The company suggests growers will be able to “reduce insecticide sprays up to 85 percent” when compared with traditional sweet corn varieties. Monsanto officials state they have confirmed that “biotech corn, including sweet corn, is as safe as conventional corn.” In addition, John O’Connell, for Capital Press, lists other approved GM food crops. “Today, the list of approved GMO staple crops includes 10 GMO tomato varieties, the NewLeaf potato, sweet corn, rice, a plum, papaya, squash, beets and sugar beets. With a few exceptions, they haven’t seen much commercial use.”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Hot 5: GAO Water Report. Harvested Acreage Per Capita. MRUniversity. The Aquaponic Source. Surviving Progress.

1. GAO Energy-Water Nexus Report.

In September 2012, the GAO came out with the “Energy-Water Nexus” report.

Since 2009, the GAO has issued five reports on the interdependencies that exist between energy and water. This increase in water use associated with energy development is being driven, in part, by rising energy demand, increased development of domestic energy, and shifts to more water-intense energy sources and technologies. A considerable amount of water is used to cool thermoelectric power plants, grow feedstocks and convert them into biofuels, and extract oil and natural gas from geologic formations.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the energy sector has been the fastest growing water consumer in the United States in recent years and is projected to account for 85 percent of the growth in domestic water consumption between 2005 and 2030.

Oil shale development would also require a great deal of water if commercial production of this energy source becomes economically feasible in the future.

Biofuels, which require the use of large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to grow the feedstock may negatively affect water quality. Development of oil and gas resources can produce large volumes of wastewater —known as “produced water”— that must be disposed of or treated to allow for its reuse.

Significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas, additionally contributing to energy demand.

Included in the report is a mention of drawing down Ogallala aquifer water unsustainably to grow biofuels crops, no-till farming practices, and climate change leading to more demand for irrigation.

2. Harvested Acreage Per Capita Has Fallen.

Note: The crops include barley, corn, millet, oats, rye, sorghum, wheat, mixed grain, rice and oilseeds (copra, palm kernel, cottonseed, peanut, rapeseed, soybean, sunflower seed). This graph was provided by Chris Erickson, Managing Director of HighQuest Partners LLC for the summer Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Meeting held in July 2012.

• Global harvested acreage has increased by 41% to estimated 916 million hectares in 2012 from 648 million hectares in 1964.

• Global harvested acreage on a per capita basis has dropped 35% to estimated 0.13 ha/person in 2012 from 0.2 ha/person in 1964.

3. Online Learning from MRUniversity.

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution have created an online education platform they named MRUniversity. It is meant to teach the basics in Development Economics largely through short video presentations.

Recently added to the set are two categories that might especially interest readers here:

● Food and Agricultural Productivity

● Water Economics

If you wish to use this resource, go to this page and click on the subject heading that you are interested in.

4. The Aquaponic Source.

Last weekend, I finally met and toured Boulder’s own Aquaponics pioneering facility. Sylvia Bernstein’s energy is through the roof and her enthusiasm for aquaponics is contagious. She was part of the development team for the very popular indoor AeroGarden product. She now carries this hydroponic gardening knowledge over to doing research, teaching, writing, and encouraging others to take up aquaponics. To help with their business, the Aquaponics Source, her husband who is retired from computer science enjoys the design and engineering aspect of the operations. I asked Sylvia what concern about today’s world motivates her in promoting this food production system model, and she answered “water”.

The Bersteins bought a property with an existing (energy inefficient) greenhouse from which they run their aquaponics system, growing a large amount of year-round fresh produce for their family and about 50 pounds of talapia per year. Aquaponics combines hydroponics and fish farming by using the waste from the fish as nutrients for the vegetables. She wrote the book “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” and keeps a nice blog about her work, too. Check it out!

5. Documentary: Surviving Progress.

I watched this film recently and thought it was quite well done. Based on Ronald Wright’s book, “A Short History of Progress”, the movie interviews notables such as Jane Goodall and Vaclav Smil. The overall question is human advancement and its price.