An aquaponics system is an excellent choice for those looking for a natural way to clean and purify water. This process works by using fish waste to feed the ecosystem’s plants, which then clean the water for the fish in a continuous, efficient cycle. However, innovative solutions like this often come at a hefty price tag.
Aquaponics systems can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $100,000. Their price can vary depending on size and geographical location. Small systems range in price from $1,500 to $15,000, while commercial systems can cost anywhere from $20,000 to over $100,000.
Suppose you want to install an aquaponics system either in a personal or commercial setting. If so, you’ll need to consider the size of the design you want to install, as it’s the most critical factor in determining its price. In the following paragraphs, I’ll break down the cost of installing and maintaining an aquaponics system to help you make the best-informed decision you can.
How Much Does It Cost To Build an Aquaponics System?
Aquaponics is the definition of symbiotic. This perfect relationship between fish, plants, and water can be an excellent way to produce your own food or create your own ecosystem. However, starting such a system can quickly become costly.
It costs on average $8,250 to build a backyard aquaponics system. Commercial aquaponics can run you around $60,000 for an average-sized system. However, prices can vary greatly depending on materials, size, transportation, and labor.
While aquaponics comes with a hefty initial cost, they tend to pay for themselves in the long run. The most significant elements that drive up the price are the components necessary to start the system.
If you want to start an aquaponics system, you’ll need fish to create the waste material required to feed the plants. In addition to fish and plants, you’ll need containers, piping, and several other elements, all of which come with an added cost.
Elements of an Aquaponics System
The most important elements you’ll need to build an aquaponics system are:
- A sump tank
- Fish tank
- Mechanical filter
The sump tank is where the pump is located. The pump is what circulates the water throughout the system.
The fish tank is the space within which the ecosystem thrives. For this reason, it usually is equipped with a couple of air stones to provide oxygen. Then you’ll need mechanical and bio-filters. These filters separate and remove large waste particles produced by the fish and store the good bacteria.
Next, you have to ensure you have enough space for the plant section of the aquaponics system. In this area, plants will grow and provide much needed oxygen. Before you set up the plant area, you’ll need to decide on the type of technique and system you want to use.
Once you’ve decided on the system you’ll use, you will need to purchase the following items:
- Water pump
- Air pump
- Air stones
- Net cups
- Plant holders
- Biofilter media
- Water test kit
- Ball valves
As previously mentioned, the water pump helps circulate water throughout the system, and the air pump is what provides oxygen for the fish, plants, and bacteria. The air stones release air bubbles into the water, and the net cups are where the plants are placed and begin to grow.
The plant holders aid the net cups in keeping the plant secure, while the biofilter media lives within the biofilter container to help the good bacteria live.
The water test kit is a toolkit used to test the pH, nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia levels in the system. The uniseals are large rubber rings that seal the PVC piping with other components, while the ball valves regulate water flow in your aquaponics.
Most of these items can be purchased for under $100, with the exception of the fish tank and the mechanical filter. Those items vary in cost, depending on size and type, but on average, you can expect to pay around $500 for a decent fish tank and about $150 for a mechanical filter.
In addition to these components, you’ll need to factor in the cost of labor for installing the system, transporting the parts, and purchasing other smaller items not listed like fish food.
As previously mentioned, the most significant factor that will affect the overall cost of an aquaponics system is how big of a design you are creating.
How Much Does a Backyard/Small Aquaponics System Cost?
While a backyard aquaponics system is generally more affordable than a commercial-sized one, there are still several financial considerations to make before installing yours.
Backyard or small-sized aquaponics systems cost around $1,500 – $15,000. However, the cost can vary depending on the products used, the scale of the system, and labor fees.
In the previous section, I listed the most significant elements that make up an aquaponics system. Therefore, if you’re planning on installing one yourself, I suggest considering the previously mentioned list along with the approximate costs for each element to be able to make a thorough cost analysis.
Based on these sources, you can get all the materials necessary for a small backyard aquaponics system for roughly $1,500. However, this figure does not include the cost of labor or parts transportation/delivery.
Even the most basic and small aquaponics system will likely cost you at least $5,000 unless you do the installation yourself.
How Much Does a Commercial Grade Aquaponics System Cost?
Commercial grade aquaponics can range from $15,000 to over $100,000. The price will depend on the system’s size, design, and capacity. However, no matter the design choices you make, commercial-grade aquaponics always require a significant initial investment.
Before building a commercial aquaponics system, it’s crucial for you to do enough market research to determine the local demand in your area. For example, some successful systems supply vegetables, like lettuce, at wholesale for restaurants, while others utilize aquaculture for fish.
It’s always ideal to produce an item that’s in high demand within the market you can reach. For this reason, properly-conducted research during the planning phases can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
For commercial aquaponics systems, you’ll need at least one acre (0.4 hectares or about 4,050 square meters) of land to use and a greenhouse structure to protect the plants from environmental factors. For example, rain and temperature changes can negatively impact your crops.
Greenhouses can vary in design and capabilities. Smaller structures will typically be cheaper but may not be effective for all types of plants. If you’re going to construct an acre of greenhouses, you can expect to pay anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000.
Another factor you’ll need to consider before building your aquaponics system is the type of aquaponic system you want to implement. To do so, first, check out this article from Friendly Aquaponics to learn more about the different types of systems and how they work.
Additional costs of commercial aquaponics could include some necessary technological equipment such as an HVAC system, which would be the ideal way to control the temperature of the water within the ecosystem and the air around it.
For more details on the different costs associated with hydroponic systems, you can check out this article.
Are Aquaponic Systems Profitable?
Aquaponics may not be the latest technological innovation, but recently it has gained some mainstream popularity. As a result, many small aquaponic farms have begun popping up all over the United States, and all of them have varying amounts of success.
Aquaponics systems aren’t very profitable yet. Most aquaponics systems operating in the U.S. have sales of less than $25,000, with only a few making more than $50,000 annually. Commercial aquaponic systems also require a significant initial investment.
According to studies reported in this article from Oklahoma State University, only 11% of aquaponics farms in the U.S. had $50,000 or more sales. So, it would seem that the growing interest in this field may be mostly hobbyists rather than businesses.
Are Aquaponic Systems Cheaper Than Hydroponics?
Aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics are all excellent investments for hobbyists and enthusiasts; therefore it can be confusing trying to figure out the best alternative for you, particularly if you’re concerned about cost.
Aquaponic systems are cheaper than hydroponics, While their initial costs are similar, hydroponic systems are costlier to sustain, as they require frequent purchases of expensive chemical nutrients.
Hydroponic systems are a popular method of plant production that uses chemical nutrients and water to grow the plants rather than soil. This method is especially effective at producing basil, lettuce, and tomato, and the results are consistently high in crop yields.
Both aquaponic and hydroponic systems have seen a spike in popularity over the years, and both are excellent at growing plants and organic food without the need for soil. However, there are also some significant differences between the two systems.
Differences Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics
One of the most significant differences between hydroponics and aquaponics are maintenance costs. While you’ll only need to purchase fish food when building an aquaponics system, with hydroponics you’ll need to buy the previously mentioned chemical nutrients.
Another difference between these two systems is the role water plays in both of them. In aquaponics, the water balance is usually consistent due to the symbiotic relationship between the plants and fish.
However, the water can quickly become toxic in a hydroponic system as it accumulates chemicals and salts. This means that you’ll have to regularly remove and replace the water in a hydroponic system. However, with an aquaponics system, you won’t need to go through this process.
What Are the Advantages of an Aquaponics System?
There’s a wide range of benefits when it comes to building and maintaining an aquaponics system. They’re the very reason why the concept has gained so much popularity throughout this last decade.
The advantages of an aquaponics system include: ease of maintenance, increased productivity, faster growth, higher yields, and lessened negative environmental impact.
Aquaponic systems have gained a lot of popularity throughout these last years, primarily for hobbyists and garden enthusiasts, because of the advantages listed previously. Therefore, it’s important to get a better understanding of each of them.
The previously mentioned advantages are far from the only reason why aquaponics has become such a sought-after discipline. Potential profitability for commercial growers, better consumable food, and practical production methods in urban areas also add to the industry’s high growing rate.
While not all commercial aquaponic growers are able to turn a profit, some do. The key to success is always carefully conducting market research. Ensuring local demand can sustain your supply is the most important process of building an aquaponics system for commercial use.
Another advantage includes the fact that the food produced through aquaponics isn’t filled with chemicals or pesticides like many traditionally grown crops are. Additionally, aquaponic systems can be installed in urban areas where soil and farmland are limited.
Other advantages of aquaponic systems include easy maintenance, increased crop growth at quicker paces, and lessened environmental strain.
Ease of Maintenance
As I previously mentioned, aquaponic systems tend to be cheaper than hydroponic systems in the long run, simply because they involve less maintenance.
Generally, there isn’t much you’ll need to do to sustain an aquaponic system. In the first paragraph of this article, I explained the impressive, efficient cycle that keeps the ecosystem alive. Due to the symbiotic relationship between the flora and the fauna, there’s not much you’ll need to do to keep these species healthy and growing.
Due to the effect that the plants will have on the ecosystem’s water, its chemistry is typically very consistent. This means that you’ll only need to check the ammonia, nitrate, and pH levels about once a week to ensure the process is running smoothly.
A balanced pH level is crucial for nearly any growth method. If you’re measuring the pH levels in your aquaponics system, you’ll want them to remain steady at about 6.8 or 7.0. This reading is considered neutral and perfect for the ecosystem to thrive in.
Aquaponics may be a centuries-old technology, but it’s only recently been garnering new interest. The great thing about these systems is that they offer production location flexibility.
Aquaponic systems are highly efficient, especially compared to similar methods like hydroponics. They use significantly less water than soil-based or land farms and grow products much faster.
According to a Fish20 Market Report, they can yield about 200,000 pounds (90.7 metric tons) of produce per acre (0.4 hectares) using 90% less water than traditional farming methods.
With an Aquaponics system, the plants and the fish grow side by side in one symbiotic environment. Additionally, their impressive growth rate often means that commercial growers and hobbyists can have multiple plantings in a year.
If you want to produce fish and plants, though, the maturation time can be longer for fish, but the plants should take off right away.
As I just mentioned, growing plants in an aquaponics system is more productive than the traditional method. The plants of the ecosystem have unlimited access to nutrients in their roots to grow much faster than they would using soil.
Even the fish can grow faster than usual in an aquaponic system once they’ve adapted to their environment.
Not only is plant growth faster in an aquaponic system, but the plants produced are also larger and healthier. Usually, they take about 2 months to go through a growth cycle when placed in soil. In contrast, when part of an aquaponics system, the growing time is decreased by half. Most aquaponics systems have plants that grow in one month.
Check out this YouTube video to see arugula growth in an aquaponics system:
However, the growth time also depends on the type of plant or vegetable you’re cultivating.
Ideal plants to grow within an aquaponics system include:
- Zucchini squash
- and so much more
Some studies even suggest that plants in a soilless system grow more prominent and have a greater chance of long-term survival than those grown traditionally in soil.
Lessened Negative Environmental Impact
Generally speaking, aquaponics is an excellent way to grow food. Aside from the steep initial investment costs, these systems are reaping benefits not only for plants but also for the environment.
The main environmental benefit that aquaponics provides is reduced water use, as it requires about ten times less water than traditional farming methods. This is because the water in these systems doesn’t call for a lot of quality monitoring.
You don’t need as much land to produce high crop yields. As I previously mentioned, you only need one acre (0.4 hectares) to be considered a commercial grower.
Aquaponics is a great way to provide organic food in big cities. Since you don’t need a lot of space, urban areas with large populations and heavy food demands would greatly benefit from these systems.
Additionally, with an aquaponic system, you won’t need to spend money on using pesticides that can damage the environment. Furthermore, there’s no need to worry about eliminating insects or weeds.
Since you’re not using pesticides or antibiotics to treat fish parasites (because the plants absorb the parasites), this also means that the food produced in these systems isn’t genetically modified. So no harmful chemicals end up in consumable foods.
What Are the Disadvantages of an Aquaponic System?
Alright, now that I’ve covered the numerous advantages of building an aquaponic system, let’s dive into some potential drawbacks.
The disadvantages of an aquaponic system include high initial costs, high energy needs, and less durable crops. The infrastructure requirements and costly components can prevent minor to mid-sized producers from investing in these systems or creating commercial growth.
While aquaponics has many benefits, these systems have their disadvantages as well. Remember how I mentioned previously that these systems could successfully be implemented in urban areas? Well, they can, but it’s not always easy to do.
Aquaponic systems have significant infrastructure requirements, including biofiltration and high-tech pumps, which can be challenging to install in high-density areas.
Another issue is the electricity usage in these systems. While they don’t require an obscene amount of energy, the required amount is still significant. This also contributes to the number one disadvantage: the cost. High electricity consumption can be expensive and create barriers for smaller-scale growers.
Additionally, while soil-based crops are resilient to weather changes, aquaponic system crops may not be. As a result, growers may lose an entire crop if a glitch happens within a system, for example, a power outage.
Overall, though, despite the high initial costs, the other disadvantages aren’t usually a serious cause for concern. Generally speaking, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages of these systems.
Additionally, it’s still possible to turn a profit from these systems as long as you can afford the initial start-up costs and infrastructure installation.
Of course, your success rate will highly depend on the local demand. Therefore, make sure to strategize before installing your system and carefully weigh the pros and cons before you reach a decision.
Analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of these systems can feel overwhelming. However, I can say that overall, this system is innovative and adaptive, and it will hopefully aid in creating greater food security in the future.
Aquaponics systems are growing in popularity due to the wide range of benefits they offer gardeners, hobbyists, and commercial growers.
However, they are costly to build. It’s hard to pin down a specific price with a wide range of associated costs and varying amounts spent on them by different growers. However, most small aquaponics systems cost between $1,500 and $15,000.
The price skyrockets when you consider the cost for a commercial operation, with costs going anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000.
These innovative systems are changing plant production as we know it.