Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Freshwater Lobster Reshapes Aquaponics

This is very promising. The crayfish clean up the roots stimulating vigorous growth while putting on weight.  Their density is several times expected as well.  The rest is a virtuous plant and fish raising cycle that includes a mineralization and nitrification cycle to close the operating loop down to mineral inputs particularly.

It is obvious this protocol is primed to back into the greenhouse industry rather soon.  It will mean a large expansion in sales from all such operations.  Thus we can expect a rising supply of fresh fish and fresh water lobster to dominate the food markets over the next twenty years.

To put that in perspective, I was presented with an early prospectus for a five acre greenhouse operation back in 1985.  By 2005 the industry had made their cucumbers market favorites across North America.  That same infrastructure could absorb this technology easily out of normal cash flow.

Thus actual turn to market can be very short since the capital investment has already been made.

Aquaponics pioneer raising 'freshwater lobster,' year-round vegetables

What others are saying about ESCIA 

Carl A. Bruggemeier, entrepreneur/restaurateur, former director of Tavern on the Green, New York; Commander’s Palace, New Orleans; The Phoenix, Cincinnati: 

“I’ve never seen a crawfish the size of Glynn Barber’s crawfish, and I’ve never seen a blue crawfish. I have harvested crawfish myself and cooked them and eaten them, and his are spectacular, with probably 10 times the meat of a normal crawfish. ... Indiana has a very short growing season. With hydroponics, there is no growing season. You can grow 24/7, 365. ... I am a huge proponent of the quality of the product, of the year-round availability of the product and literally of the fact you can grow it anywhere, even where they don’t have soil. ... He can grow almost 1,500 plants in 900 square feet, and because of the fish nutrients, you can harvest those plants every 28 to 32 days.” 

Linda Proffitt, Global Peace Initiatives founder, Indianapolis: 

“I think this is a market response to the need for production of local foods. It’s a technological advancement that enhances the cleanliness and productivity of the livestock and vegetable production. The plants are beautiful, sweet and nutritious. Glynn Barber is as green as it gets. I am headed to Muncie as we speak. Glynn is giving me his second-generation prototype for our Peaceful Grounds at the Marion County Fairgrounds.” 

Rob Wibbeler, Indiana Aquaculture Association member: 

“Aquaponics has been commercialized especially at the hobbyist level. There are some others that you might call commercial at the university level, but they’re designed more for research and don’t have to be economically sustainable. What Glynn is trying to do is bring production closer to the consumer in the urban area in a system that not only keeps fish and vegetables growing and healthy but also allows for potential employment and for an economic model so you get back what you invest in it at a profit.”

REDKEY — East Central Indiana already is home to the nation’s largest yellow perch farm, one that has earned a “Best Choice” rating from Seafood Watch.

Now, this region could spawn the nation’s first big commercial aquaponics facility — an organic food production system that would raise not only yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill, tilapia and “freshwater lobster,” but also fresh vegetables year round.

For seven years, Air Force veteran and tool and die maker Glynn Barber, 45, researched and developed the Environmentally Controlled Sustainable Integrated Agriculture (ESCIA) system, starting in his oversize garage.

After successfully operating a prototype in a new greenhouse next to the garage, he’s now ready to market the system, whose components are all made in Muncie and other local cities.

Thanks to funding from Indiana Farm Bureau, Wapahani High School bought an ESCIA module for the school’s greenhouse, where students raise tomatoes and lettuce (served on the school cafeteria’s salad bar) as well as tilapia.

Scott Truex, an associate professor of urban planning at Ball State University and co-founder of The Sustainable Communities Institute, believes Barber has created “an unparalleled food production machine” that “has the potential to revolutionize the aquaponics industry and feed the world.”

One of the next steps for Barber, who went to aeronautics and mechanical engineering school while serving in the military, is to install a commercial ESCIA system in Muncie or another nearby city.

“Three years ago, we presented an opportunity on the 68-acre, New Venture Gear site in Muncie,” he said. “We have that entire business plan developed to put several hundred people back to work. The RACER Trust agreed. GM may consider funding that site. It’s a $34 million project.”

The RACER Trust was created in 2011 by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to clean up and redevelop more than 44 million square feet of industrial space in former General Motors Corp. builidings in 14 states.

GM tore down the New Venture Gear/Manual Transmissions of Muncie factory in 2006.

Aquaponics, a recently emerging industry in the Midwest, combines aquaculture (raising fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (growing plants in troughs of water). The water circulates between the fish and the plants. The treated fish waste feeds the plants.

There are literally hundreds of people designing and building their own aquaponics systems, ranging from a fish tank with herbs in the kitchen to small systems capable of supplying farmers markets or local restaurants, says Laura Tiu, aquaculture extension specialist, Ohio State University.

“However, I’ve yet to see a large, commercial scale operation,” she said. “We’ve not yet seen a model system that is economically proven that can be replicated. I believe that this is what Glynn, as well as many others, are trying to achieve. I believe this type of replicable system is very important to the industry, because if someone can’t make money raising food this way, it will remain in the hobby realm. I’ve seen Glynn’s system, like the design and it seems to work well, but until it is evaluated by an unbiased party, I can’t really comment on its viability.”

Seafood Watch
Bell Aquaculture, headquartered in Redkey, has become the nation’s largest producer of farm-raised yellow perch. Bell sells fillets, fresh or frozen, as well as dressed and breaded fillets, to restaurants and grocery stores and online. Bell also produces an organic fertilizer for soil called FishRich.

After an investigation by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program in 2012, Bell’s yellow perch was rated as a seafood “best choice,” a category for fish that are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.

Bell Aquaculture’s land-based, closed-containment, recirculating production site in Albany earned high scores from Seafood Watch for wastewater treatment, including a man-made wetland to help filter effluent; good husbandry; strong biosecurity practices; operating as an antibiotic-free, parasiticides-free and chemotheraputant-free facility, and independence from wild fisheries.

The system minimizes the risk of pathogen introduction because inflowing water is ground water, said Jenna Stoner, seafood campaign coordinator for Living Oceans Society and author of the Seafood Watch report on Bell Aquaculture.

Stoner told The Star Press that Seafood Watch has not rated any aquaponics systems because “they have not been fully commercialized by any means. There are a couple of small farm-to-restaurant operations but I am not aware of any that are producing on a large scale. But it’s definitely something that is up and coming. They’re getting a lot of interest.”

As the owner of a tool and die shop, Barber has done work for Bell Aquaculture.

“What Bell Aquaculture has done for the world of aquaculture is just phenomenal,” Barber said. “And I’ve been privy to that education they gave me. They also put us in touch with contacts.”

'Talked to potheads'
A 1986 Muncie Central High School graduate, Barber began developing ESCIA (the way he pronounces it rhymes with messiah) in his garage.

“I bought the elite marijuana grower’s bible and talked to the guys who grow the best plants indoors: I talked to all the potheads,” he said. He also consulted university researchers, a physician who also earned a doctorate in agricultural chemistry, restaurateurs and other experts.

“Aquaponics is a great movement, but it’s more backyard,” Barber said. In an aquaponics system, water from fish tanks is fed to troughs of water in which plants are grown. The treated fish waste serves as food for the plants. The water is then recirculated back to the fish tanks.

“With aquaponics, you’ve got to drain out your fish waste or clean that waste out every now and then,” Barber said. “With ESCIA, we never drain the fish waste — ever. I have never changed my water in 5 years.”

The waste water from the fish tanks is fed into a piece of equipment that mineralizes the waste, breaking it down into plant food. “We hit it with light, agitation and a proprietary blend of products,” Barber said. “It’s like a wastewater treatment plant on steroids.”

In the water troughs where the plants grow out of holes in plastic rafts, Barber raises Australian red claw crayfish, which live on the decaying roots of the plants. Perch, bass, tilapia and bluegill can’t be raised in the troughs with the plants because they would eat the roots and kill the plants.

Quarter pounders
“Are the fish the product?” Barber asks. “They are a fertilization factor for the plants. Are the plants the product? They are a biofiltration system for the fish. Are the crayfish the product? They’re the scavengers for the whole system. That’s where we started.”

Thirty percent of the body weight of an Australian red claw is edible tail meat, which Barber’s fiancèe says tastes sweeter than lobster. Native to remote areas of tropical northern Australia, Red claw are also known as “freshwater lobster” and have been marketed as “small lobsters.”

“And we don’t feed them,” Barber says. “They get to a quarter pound in 90 days under the plants. Traditional science says you can grow one of them per square meter. We’re growing two per square foot. So in one of our 10-foot fiberglass troughs, we grow 80 crayfish. So in each of those systems, we grow 720 crayfish every 90 days. A native crayfish in a Louisiana mud bog — only 10 to 15 percent of their body weight is edible tail meat. If you like lobster but are allergic to shellfish, you are not allergic to these guys. They are fresh water. There is no iodine.”

During the research and development process, first in his garage and then in the greenhouse, “our family ate out of here,” Barber said during a tour. “We grow carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, ginseng, wasabi. We were harvesting green beans every three to four days. Look how healthy these plants are. Eighty-four heads of red romaine lettuce every 28 days. We just continue to prune and prune. Look at that Russian kale.This tomato plant is already starting to bloom despite the cold snap in the dead of winter, just from seed. No supplemental light. In the middle of winter.”

“We will get $7.50 a pound for our largemouth bass,” he said. “We’ve got people who want to give us 60-month contracts for 5,000 to 7,000 pounds of largemouth bass per week for the Asian food market.”

As the fish flap in the net, he talks about differences between aquaculture and aquaponics.

“Bell grows fish, not plants,” he says. “Some of the constraints they have is with their stocking density on their tanks, because they’re only as good as their biofiltration system. Well, our plants act as our biofiltration system, plus our aquaculture wastewater conversion unit converts everything down within hours to nitrates. We’re doing that nitrification cycle within hours.”

Barber plans to launch ESCIA’s website, www.ecsia.us, today. On Saturday, the Indiana Aquaculture Association, of which Barber is vice president, will hold its annual meeting at Ball State University. Speakers include the manager of Purdue University’s Aquaculture Research Laboratory, the owner of an Indiana shrimp farm, and a loan officer from Farm Credit Mid-America. The conference concludes with a tour of Barber’s aquaponics facility in rural Redkey.

Indiana aquaculture farm sales exceeded $15 million in 2012, up from $3.5 million in 2006. The industry employed 169 people in 2012, producing food fish including yellow perch, tilapia, trout, marine shrimp and freshwater prawns; sport fish like bluegill; and ornamental fish for the aquarium industry.

Barber is marketing four ESCIA modules: one for schools, one for farmers markets and two commercial modules. “Each module is plug and play and easily expanded into the next,” Barber says. “ESCIA has made aquaculture and plant growth affordable and very profitable with no growing season (the growing season is year round).”

He gives tours of his greenhouse to students from local high schools.

“I had one high school kid tell me, ‘You just want to do this to make money.’ I told him, ‘You’ve got it wrong, junior. If somebody doesn’t make money, we can’t give anything away. I’m going to Nigeria for two to three weeks in March and April to give stuff away. The poor here in America have it bad, but I traveled the world when I was in the military. Wait until you go to The Philippines, to Africa, where people have nothing. It takes men and women like us to make a difference.’ ”

He told The Star Press: “This is all about food safety. When we started feeding our family out of this, we noticed amazing results for my child (who had been suffering from an illness). My passion for this goes well beyond ... money.”

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