Aquaponics

 Facilities

ACE has established a variety of aquaponic systems that are used for production research, teaching and extension purposes.  Multiple systems are located in a greenhouse (9 x 10 m) that utilize a side-stream flow from the adjacent indoor grass carp production facility.  During the Spring, Summer and Fall this greenhouse produces a diverse crop mix primarily using the Deep Water Culture (DWC) technique.  Other systems in the greenhouse include stand-alone media systems as well as a vertical, flow through Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system.  Pest Control is accomplished through the introduction of Biological Pest Control options or as a last resort, organically approved sprays such as soap or living bacteria based pesticides.  Crops are tested for their adaptability to the hydroponic systems and the nutrient solution created from the fish effluents.  Spacing, yields and marketability are considered when choosing crops to produce in the facility.  New systems and new crops are constantly being tested in the ACE greenhouse providing new learning experiences for the many visitors who tour the aquaponic research areas of ACE.  Although the greenhouse can operate year-round, during the winter season, the greenhouse is typically closed to avoid paying high heating and lighting bills.

ACE also conducts research using indoor aquaponic systems.  These system require complete lighting to be supplied by artificial means.  A variety of lighting options are always on display in the ACE indoor production rooms.  Conventional grow light technology such as HID lamps have been replaced with state of the art options like L.E.D.s, Induction and Plasma light sources.  These technologies are all energy efficient and the bulbs and fixtures have a long life compared to the common HID lamps such as Metal Halide or High Pressure Sodium.  Currently, replicated systems are being constructed in the indoor production area to allow for scientific trials to be conducted on a variety of variables of interest (lighting, feeds, fish/plant mix, etc…).  Indoor systems include media based, home-scale systems and DWC beds. 


 Research

Aquaponic research at ACE is multi-faceted and has recently benefitted from funding provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC):

  • Seedling Production:
    Rockwool seedling cubes have conventionally been used at Lethbridge College.  For many reasons, rockwool is not a sustainable source for starting seedlings so Lethbridge College has started to look at other methods including the use of coconut coir and worm castings produced from the ACE vermicompost project.  Seedling media mixes now include coir, vermiculite and worm castings, allowing for good root development without the need for additional fertilization to produce exceptional seedlings to be used in a variety of aquaponic systems. 
  • Seed Production:
    Recently, trials were conducted to produce seeds from aquaponic lettuce crops in an attempt to improve the cultivars for hydroponic production.  Seeds were saved from two varieties of lettuce grown in the DWC systems and will be tested for viability and will be re-grown and seeds generated again from the next generation.  The project was funded through an Organic Alberta grant and excess seeds will be available to other aquaponic growers in the region.
  • Cold Water Aquaponic Research:
    Limited research has been conducted using coldwater fish species linked to aquaponic plant production, primarily due to the sub-optimal water temperatures for the production of tropical vegetables.  Growth rates of hydroponic vegetables slow down when the culture water is chilled to temperatures ideal for fish species such as trout, salmon or char.  Producers of these high value fish will have to identify a crop mix that grows well under these low temperature conditions, while generating income that can sustain that production systems.  Lethbridge College in initiating some of this research currently, linking Rainbow Trout production with wasabi, a cool-water, high value crop.  Additionally, cold water effluents may be digested to release dissolved nutrients while heating up the nutrient solution in the process allowing for production of warm-water vegetables. 
  • New Fish Species:
    Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) has recently been added to the approved fish species list for aquaculture production in Alberta.  Before the fish are released to Alberta producers they will have to go through a quarantine period at where the fry will be evaluated for risk of disease introduction, and Lethbridge College is one of the facilities where this will take place.  This high-value fish species may provide aquaponic producers with a new product and may improve the economic potential of existing aquaponic facilities.  Ongoing production trails will include identification of aquaponic crops that are best suited for production in the barramundi water. 

For an overview of our current aquaponics research, please see the link below to details on “Advancing Commercial Food Production through Integrated Fish and Plant Systems to Meet the Needs of Industry and Community”


Education & Training

The Aquaculture Center of Excellence at Lethbridge College is involved in hosting Aquaculture and Aquaponics workshops within the Continuing Education program.  Courses are designed to specialize in all aspects of fish farming and the combined culture of aquaponic crops.  Introductory courses give students a broad overview of the industry and address topics that should be considered when jumping into the new world food production.  Some courses are designed to give hobby-scale producers the skills they need to construct and operate their own home-based systems.  Other courses focus on commercialization of the systems and may include regulatory topics such as licensing and zoning issues or food safety protocols required to sell to wholesale distributors.  Regardless of the course focus, the instructors at Lethbridge College bring the latest industry research and developments to the attention of the students so they grow their businesses based on the most current industry advancements.  Courses are announcement throughout the year.  To find out what is planned next, check the Continuing Education website here.


 Contact

For more information about the aquaponics projects at Lethbridge College please contact our senior aquaponics researcher scientist, Dr. Nick Savidov at nick.savidov@lethbridgecollege.ca.

Mr. John Derksen, chair for ACE, can be contacted for any other aquaculture related concerns you may have at  j.derksen@lethbridgecollege.ca.