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Just starting out but goal is to go commercial.

Discussion in 'Commercial Systems' started by JoeBifano, Sep 9, 2010.

  1. JoeBifano

    JoeBifano New Member

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    I have been looking at the forum and wanting to set up a aquaponics system in Colorado USA, in a 24x64 greenhouse I am building. The roof is all I need to get up and then put plastic on it.

    I have 2- 1000 gallon fish tanks dug into the ground, because the backhoe was there for the day, and want to get started using one of them. I have been looking at the Growing Power setup as far as the fish tanks an bio-filter systems above. I thought that was the way to go after reading as much as I could but have learned just recently that in a commercial setup the gravel bio-filter is really not the best way to go if my goal is a commercial setup. I did not realize that they were a low density system and it looks like I will need to do a high density setup. So with the holes dug I will be building the posts and plywood and want to put in one trough above it, maybe 2 like growing power has, so they get in before my winter comes. The tank posts are a part of my roof design holding up a long ridge board.

    I want to go slow and easy and get my feet wet growing leafy greens and herbs first and then in the spring try tomatoes. My goal would be to go commercial in the long haul so I need to do what I can with that goal in mind but slowly.

    I have purchased a few DVD’s, Nelson & Pade’s DVD and Glen Martinez DVD to get an idea but need to get more meat on what I need to do to get started. I see you have 2 DVD’s and wanted to know if these will help me get enough information to build the rest of my system. I would like to use what I have started with and then build towards the commercial setup.

    My first greenhouse can be with the 2 tanks with the gravel bio-filter setup above and then get a better bio-filter, when I can afford it, to go to the commercial setup and convert those troughs back to just growing troughs without all the media. That is what I am hoping can be done. Then as I get good at understanding the system and all the details of it go towards the commercial setup.

    I have had several meetings with distributers of produce that cannot get local grown tomatoes and have a meeting with another distributer in a few weeks that only sells greens and herbs that is very interested in what I am doing. They both have said that they would give me contracts as far as what they would like per week in products. So the potential is there to sell my produce but now I need to put in that small test setup and get a small system going to make tests on everything I can to see what I need for the fish, plants and greenhouse heating and cooling to make the best decisions I can.

    I have talked to Wilson Lenard but he is doing more larger consulting and have a close friend in Hawaii that started with Friendly Aquaponics setup and has modified and added to it but they are low density so that will help in the beginning but not for the future.

    Please let me know what you think and what might be the best thing to do to get this off the ground.
     
  2. Castaway

    Castaway Senior Member

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    Hi Joe, Seeing you have already made a connection with a local distributor of produce - the question you need to figure out first - in my opinion - is how much realistic income you hope to reap per week growing tomatoes or other produce? How will your produce grow in winter in the worst possible climate conditions? Will you need to heat your greenhouse? How many pounds of tomatoes can you grow per week? Surely this will dictate how big an aquaponics setup you will need to construct to achieve your financial goals? Would other produce earn you a bigger return? In your climate over the cold winter months running a small trial AP system and keeping careful notes would be a good way to see what grows well and what doesn't do so well - and over what time frame it takes to grow that item. You might discover lettuce grows better than tomatoes. No one here can tell you that. You need to do the research yourself. Conduct trials. Try and get to first base - running a trial system first to give you a good indicator of what you realistically can and cannot grow in your climate zone first and when you have built sufficient confidence - then expand your operation to capitalize on your research and knowledge. Good Luck...
     
  3. JoeBifano

    JoeBifano New Member

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    Thanks Castaway for the reply.

    I agree that I need to test and see what I can and cannot grow.

    I guess my biggest question is what system should I look at that can get me to the commercial set up. I want to start small and test and then add on if it is successful. What should I be looking at or what plans can I get to start with and then add on.

    I need to get plans that will tell me what to do and what I need to see in my tests. Where to I start? I do not want to keep looking at posts and put together bits and pieces. Is there a manual that I can purchase?
     
  4. RupertofOZ

    RupertofOZ New Member

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    For a "commercial" system... probably only the "Friendlies"... although UVI have published nearly everything that relates to their systems...

    Other than the "costings"... which are probably skewed by the fact that they're a "research" facility and attract grants and funding...
     
  5. JoeBifano

    JoeBifano New Member

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    Thanks John, I will look at the Friendly Aquaponics site. I have never heard of the "costings". Do you have a URL for them?

    It looks like there would be a nice niche in having plans and manuals on how to set up systems if this is all there is.
     
  6. Mantis

    Mantis New Member

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    I think John meant that UVI hadnt published the costings of their operation
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2010
  7. Sandy

    Sandy New Member

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    ecological aquaculture

    I'm in a similar spot as yourself. I am wanting to raise my own fish food though as well. Read a book by laurence Hutchinson - Ecological Aquaculture, covers ratios and approaches to keep water clean and raise the food chain for trout.

    I'm curious about how you got your conversations started with the distributors. this is coming up for me.

    Thanks
     
  8. Satman76058

    Satman76058 New Member

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    I am new to this forum, live in Texas and would like to start as well. Is it better to use deep water or grow beds for a set up where you are going to grow say 6000 head per month?
     
  9. Satman76058

    Satman76058 New Member

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    It seems like if you use deep water you have to buy more supplies (hortisquares,cups and such). The initial cost of grow beds seems higher but you are not paying out for supplies all the time. Also, can you direct seed to grow beds or do you still have to buy the cubes in order to make seedlings.
     
  10. jsawyer

    jsawyer New Member

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    I currently have a small business in Colorado designing and developing aquaponics systems. As Castaway suggested in his post, I'm in the process of running a few medium sized systems and gathering data this winter to see how production goes for certain crops with a focus on moving towards the next phase of building out a commercial size system. I believe a multi-tiered raft system, like what Sweetwater Organics in Wisconsin runs, would be a great way to maximize production over a relatively small footprint. I'm actually heading to SW next weekend to take a tour and look more closely at their facility.
    Would love to talk with you more if you're looking for ideas and assistance.

    JD
    www.coloradoaquaponics.com
     
  11. ColoradoFish

    ColoradoFish New Member

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    Jsawyer and JoeBifano : I too am in Colorado south east of Denver and working up to a commercial system. I have just completed setting up a CHOP system with one FT and two grow beds and have material for two more systems. I have the green house to complete on the south side of the barn to enclose the grow beds and the FT is in the Barn. Have gone through 15 gold fish so far as the little guys get sucked up and deposited in the grow beds. Still have one bigger fish that has survived all the “issues” in getting up and running. Looking to get 50 trout and have already started some plants indoors and will transplant once the GB are enclosed.

    My goal is to see what I could grow over the winter months and expand this spring if all goes well. We might want to get together and trade notes???
     
  12. RupertofOZ

    RupertofOZ New Member

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    I think all three of you need some perspective...

    Chris Meunier of KP Simply Fresh Aquaponics in Wisconsin... expects to make his first sales this month... via direct marketing... after two years and $300,000 of investment...

    His operation is housed in a 5000 sq foot greenhouse... with 6 x 1200 gallon tanks...

    And frankly IMO... that is a minimum "commercial" operation... and probably a minimum capital investment... and assumes you own the land...

    I doubt he will get a ROI within 5 years.... more likely 7-10 years...


    As an aside... a minimum "commercial" hydroponics operation would comprise 40 x 12mtr x 10 channel tables... or approximately 16000 holes... (optimumly 20000 holes)... approx 10000 sq foot....

    Or to put it another way.... 4000 lettuce per month.... and labour comprising... 1 full time x 60hr, 7 day week... and 1 part time 30hr, 6 day week


    Sorry... but IMO.... you guys just aren't in the ballpark... and haven't researched either aquaponics, aquaculture, licencing... or marketing ... sufficently ... to develope a viable business plan...
     
  13. Murray

    Murray Site Admin Staff Member

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    It depends on what one defines as "commercial"
    I have a very happy client in four hours drive north of Brisbane who sells around 400 lettuce a week. Some at 1.50 each to some snack bars and motels, and the rest at 2.00 each at the Sunday markets.
    He is averaging 600.00 per week which is a very handsome top up to his now-not-so-good-superannuation.
    His little enterprise is keeping him healthy and gainfully occupied.
    He is "commercial"....very small "commercial" to be sure, but hey, he is having a good time.

    He does that in his large suburban backyard, using mostly NFT.
    He started off as a Hydroman and is gradually changing over to be an Aquaman.

    It also depends on what one defines as ROI and what the investor/s expect from their investment. Most businesses/ investors do not expect to recover their initial investment until they sell the business or their shares. Then they recover the investment together with a capital gain. The immediate goal is to run at a healthy trading profit. By doing that every year the investors shares are assured of attracting a dividend and an increased value.

    I feel that most people in this space, when they say "I want to go commercial" envisage a set up that will return them a thousand a week or thereabouts and employ no labour except their own effort and that of their spouse.
    It is a lifestyle enterprise they have in mind, and that is a very attractive and achievable idea.
     
  14. RupertofOZ

    RupertofOZ New Member

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    True enough Murray... and a valid way to occupy ones self and earn some "pocket" money....

    But even at that scale and return... it involves a minimum 2000 holes, the space to do it... and doesn't account for plant and fish stock, power etc... or payment of your own labour...

    And he's getting "premium" prices for his lettuce.... wholesale the return is probably $0.50 - $0.75 at best...

    And there's the "nub".... as to do so requires that all "overheads" including labour are paid... to determine the "profit"....

    And that simply requires a scale of operation and investment IMO...

    If we assume a $1000 a week, and a price return of $1/lettuce.... that's still a requirement of at least 5000 holes... more likely 10000, in order to cover costs... and to ensure continuity of supply and to account for any "failures"...

    And at that level... continuity of supply is a critical factor... to maintain that weekly rate of return...

    And is probably about the extent of a single person operation....

    Attractive and achievable... certainly... and gainfully employed in terms of ones time....

    But barely "commercial"...


    I'm not trying to discourage anyone, or rain on their parade... just trying to ensure that people look at things from a perspective of reality... rather than through rose tinted enthusiasm... that might otherwise be doomed to failure...
     
  15. Todd61

    Todd61 New Member

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    Good post Murray and Rupert, I would strongly advise a lot of market research and doing a business plan. The plans are no fun to work on but really make you take a hard look at all the aspects of a business. Aquaponics is exciting and I think most of us on the forum are wondering why the rest of the world hasn't caught on yet!
    And yes I'm working on a business plan now that MAY in the future consider commercial growing and it is not a fun process but will only add to your success in the future.
     
  16. ColoradoFish

    ColoradoFish New Member

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    Boy RupertofOZ, some pretty strong opinions based on a short posting. :)
    In my case I am always open to others opinion as it opens the opportunity for further discussions.

    In my case I am sill in the research phase and as with any of my business venture a viable business plan is a must for any large scale operation.

    I currently have a working share crop operation and looking at a way to operate year round and expand.
    In the last two years a majority of my crops have been lost due to weather related issues and thought if I was going to erect hoop houses to limit my losses why not see if I can grow some fish. Could be cheaper then feeding cattle over the winter.
    Land for me is no problem. I currently live on 20 acres, lease with option on 160 acres, and have 12,000 acres in a trust.

    In my opinion Aquponics, Hydroponics is just another flavor of any agricultural operation and agree one must know local licensing and have some idea of how you would market your product.

    For now I am not looking to get rich or quit my day job. I enjoy the challenge of developing an idea into a working operation, or not in some cases, and teaching my young girls how things grow whether it is an idea, animal, or plants.

    Just so you know, no offense was taken with your post. I enjoy the openness of all the posts I have read on this forum and look forward to reading and posting more.
     
  17. Castaway

    Castaway Senior Member

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    Murray posted this interesting link a few weeks back but the full article was available only to subscribers.

    Here's a fuller version about the difficulties faced by small aquaponics growers in Hawaii selling their produce :

    http://pacific.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2010/09/27/story7.html?b=1285560000^3997881

    An interesting glimmer of hope was finding a niche product that the bigger retailers can't readily supply or squeeze you out of the market with their bargaining muscle. There may be room to outmaneuver the bigger players but the risks are also very great for the small home operator...

    One way around this is to value add. Turn your Basil plants into a Pesto Sauce, but that would turn you into a food manufacturer and all the Govt. Regulations and red tape issues associated with Federal and State laws...
     
  18. TheNative

    TheNative New Member

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    Thanks for that link Castaway. I thought it would be difficult to get a good commercial AP setup going too having ran a few businesses myself. Looking at the friendlies web site kind of made me feel they were trying to sell a get rich quick AP business. Just my impression of it.

    No doubt I love AP and think some farmers could make money at it. Just not naive enough to believe I could. =)

    So if some of you have experience as farmers, maybe you could make it work for you. Just start small. Post some pics when you get your first test system going.

    Actually I might sell a few veggies and fish to friends and family but thats not really making money, just having my hobby pay for itself a little.
     
  19. Todd61

    Todd61 New Member

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    Great link Castaway. It's nice to see these up to date articles. Where do you find this stuff?
     
  20. Murray

    Murray Site Admin Staff Member

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    Re setting up to "go commercial"

    The big part of the plan is the marketing, as we have talked about many times.
    It must be kept in mind that you are growing a premium product and you must expect to get a premium price for both the vegetables and the fish.

    This is no ordinary produce !!!

    "Organic" produce commands a premium price nowadays and rightly so.

    I see a bright future for many, many "boutique" type aquaponics growers selling their excellent produce for premium prices.
     

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