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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Auburn, Alabama » Aquatic Animal Health Research » Research » Research Project #439807

Research Project: Improving Aquaponic Systems to Produce Fish and Plant Products

Location: Aquatic Animal Health Research

2022 Annual Report

1. Develop, evaluate, and improve fish production systems for aquaponics. Component 6: Problem Statement 6A 2. Develop, evaluate, and improve plant production systems for aquaponics. Component 6: Problem Statement 6B 3. Develope environmentally and economically sustainable aquaponic systems. Component 6: Problem Statement 6C

Auburn University faculty and their associated research team and ARS investigators will work collaboratively on both the aquatic animal and plant components in an effort to improve the yield and efficiencies of aquaponics production systems. Topics of interest to be explored include the optimization of: aquaculture system type, fish feeds, stocking densities, alternative aquatic species (e.g., high-value species such as pompano, red drum, cobia, marine shrimp, etc.), oxygenation strategies, animal and plant disease management, plant yields, improving nutrient and water use efficiencies, postharvest product quality, and salt tolerance.

Progress Report
Systems were designed and constructed at the Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit (AAHRU) in Auburn, Alabama, to rear high-value marine finfish for utilization in aquaponics trials. New species were obtained including red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), and yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus). Finfish culturists at the AAHRU are currently conducting research on diet and rearing density to generate baseline information for usage in upcoming aquaponics trials. AAHRU researchers collaborated with Florida Atlantic University/Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Conservación ConCiencia, and the Naguabo Fishing Association in Naguabo, Puerto Rico to establish a sea vegetable hydroponic and aquaponic system with sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum). In one of the systems, sea vegetables are growing with the queen conch and the other system has hydroponic nutrients. In addition, a new aquaponic system was designed and built for growing sea vegetables on the nutrients generated by conch and also spiny lobsters. In collaboration with the USDA ARS Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, studies have been initiated to evaluate commercial-scale production potential plant species (herbs, vegetables, and flowers) for performance and growth rates in freshwater aquaponic production systems culturing commercial and/or high-value fish species. Two crops that will be evaluated in upcoming trials are sweet potato and rice as to their suitability for use in an aquaponic systems. Advanced hybrid striped bass fingerling production will also be evaluated in an aquaponic system. AAHRU researchers are working with researchers in the Auburn University Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences. Initial tests for traditional vegetable hydroponic crops such as tomato, lettuce, and spinach in sub-sea water salt levels have not been positive. Even at the lowest concentrations (5000 ppm), these traditional crops rapidly desiccate and die within 5 to 10 days. Future research will focus on herbal crops that can be harvested and turned over rapidly, such as thyme, basil, oregano, and mint. In addition, non-traditional vegetable crops such as purslane, dandelion, and lambsquarter will be evaluated. Herbs and non-traditional vegetable crops have a rapid turnover of 3 to 6 weeks allowing for continuous revenue generation in production operation. Initial testing on the use of saline hydroponic wastewater on seashore paspalum turf has been positive. Using saline effluent on seashore paspalum will allow for easy disposal of such wastewater on golf courses, parks, athletic fields, home lawns and sod farm, which will reduce fertilizer needs and the need to use potable water.