Cost-effective integration of aquaculture and horticulture reducing barriers to sustainable food production

Backyard plants with rainA collaboration between UniSA and the City of Salisbury, to investigate water and resource efficient food production systems to increase employment opportunities in urban and peri-urban agriculture.

Freshwater tank-based intensive aquaculture is an efficient way to grow premium, high-demand fish such as Barramundi. However, fish farms in South Australia face numerous economic and regulatory challenges, with the discharge of nutrient-rich water being subject to increasing scrutiny. Meanwhile, horticulture – another source of premium food in SA – faces increasing costs for water and fertilizer inputs. These are complex and significant problems, which the integration of aquaculture with horticulture can help to solve through the reuse of water and nutrients. This project involves the development and testing of theoretical models for integrated aquaculture/horticulture systems, with a particular emphasis on their applicability to system design and improving commercial viability.

There are two modes of operation for integrated aquaculture/horticulture systems: “decoupled” (where water and nutrients pass to the plants without returning to the fish) and “recirculating” (where water returns to the fish after being cleansed by the plants). Both modes present advantages and disadvantages, with trade-offs between scale, cost and efficiency. Matching water and nutrient discharge from a fish farm to plant uptake requirements, while balancing market demand for the fish and crops and managing seasonality of production, is not straightforward. In this project, a generic theoretical framework will be developed that underpins and usefully informs the design of either type of integrated system at any scale.

A significant part of this project is development of a state-of-the-art field site. The City of Salisbury has granted access to a large, secure site where a greenhouse will be built for plant trials. The site will be set up as a “test-bed” for multiple system designs, using effluent sourced from a pilot-scale fish farm in the council’s jurisdiction. The proposed research aims to:

  • Consolidate the theoretical framework necessary for the rigorous technical design of scalable, cost-effective aquaculture/horticulture production systems;
  • Test, calibrate and validate the theoretical models via field trials, using both decoupled and recirculating modes; and
  • Take the first steps toward mapping commercial deployment of appropriate-scale integrated production systems.

The project builds on an existing collaboration between UniSA and the City of Salisbury, where a previously funded project looked at business models and potential viability of urban agriculture and aquaculture enterprises in the area. Expert input will come from an Industry Advisory Panel, consisting of Mr Bruce Naumann (City of Salisbury), as well as Mr Martin Hernen (National Aquaculture Council) and Mr Steve Mawer (Inland Aquaculture Association SA). The panel will primarily advise on the construction and operation of the field site, but will also help to guide the project toward commercially useful outcomes.

Project Funding

The project is funded by a Catalyst Research Grant, through the Premier’s Research and Industry Fund (SA Government). The total project funding is $60,000 over two years, of which 50% comes from the Catalyst grant and 50% from UniSA.

Areas of study and research

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