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Sustainable aquaponic vegetable and fish co-production in Ohio

By: Brad Bergefurd, MS, Horticulture Specialist and Extension Educator
Producing vegetables and fish in a linked hydroponic plant and aquaculture fish co-production system is called aquaponics. Plants can use the water and nutrients from the aquaculture tank, thus reducing water and fertilizer requirements and significantly reducing waste discharges from the aquaculture system. Producing plants hydroponically and farming fish using aquaculture have their own special requirements in order to properly manage each system. When combining the two, it adds a layer of complexity for the commercial grower when systems are maintained at plant and fish population levels recommended for maximum yields. This article provides some basic aquaponic guidelines that have been developed from research conducted by the Ohio State University Piketon Research & Extension Center. 
Aquaponic Systems
The most common aquaponic systems currently in use employ either a media-filled plant bed, nutrient-film technique (NFT), or a floating raft system for the plant growing area integrated with a recirculating aquaculture tank system (RAS) for the fish production area. Almost any type of vegetable production system can be linked to an aquaculture system, including open field production, if recycling water back to the aquaculture unit is not required. This technology is young and trialing is recommended, especially for untested systems.
Crop and Fish Choices
Any plant commonly grown in hydroponic systems will adapt to aquaponics including the most common types – leafy salad crops, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. The most common aquaponic fish is tilapia, which grow well under a wide range of water quality conditions. Other fish adapted to aquaponics but requiring more stringent water conditions than tilapia are rainbow trout, largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, and koi. Catfish can be grown in aquaponics but would not compete economically with commercial pond culture. Barramundi is a common aquaponic fish species in Australia and gaining in popularity in the Midwest. Barramundi grow under a wide range of conditions but are still being researched for aquaponics production.
If you are interested in learning more about aquaponics and research that is being conducted, if you would like to join our Ohio Aquaponics or Horticulture email listserv, or for more information, visit the OSU South Centers website: or contact Horticulture Specialist Brad Bergefurd, or call the OSU South Centers 1-800-860-7232 or 740-289-2071 ext. 132.