Pentair partnered with two companies pioneering aquaponics agriculture businesses to experiment with the viability of large-scale sustainable farming.
In many parts of the world, the climate provides a short growing season for highly perishable crops like lettuce, kale, and herbs. Combine this limitation with the world’s growing population, and the need to preserve water supply, and it’s clear the future will require new ways to produce food sustainably, responsibly and profitably.
One potential answer is aquaponics. This hybrid farming method marries aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) to create a symbiotic relationship that provides clean water for the fish and organic nutrients for the plants. Always focused on tomorrow’s resource challenges, Pentair had an eye out for opportunities to experiment with sustainable aquaponics to learn whether it could be efficient and profitable at a large scale. That’s where Urban Organics comes in.
Taking the Farm Indoors
In 2012, a team of Twin Cities business partners had a vision for turning a massive abandoned brewery building into an indoor farm. Prior to this, most commercial aquaponics ventures had been set up in warmer locales. But given the challenges in farming around Minnesota winters and the demand for locally grown produce, conditions were ripe for a new solution. Thus, Urban Organics was born.
With over three decades of experience in aquaculture and aquatic gardening, Pentair was an ideal collaborator, and a partnership quickly formed. Pentair worked with Urban Organics to design and install the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS), the technical solution that facilitates the circulation of water and nutrients from the fish to the plants and back. Pentair donated nearly all of the equipment required, from fish tanks to filters to pumps.
The scale of this application had never been attempted before. The result is a system that allows Urban Organics to farm about 6,000 Tilapia and produce about an acre’s worth of crops in an 8,000 square foot area — a very efficient use of the space.
The key variable in the system’s efficiency is the output of the fish. Pentair leveraged its expertise in water filtration to keep the fish tanks clean, aerated, and oxygenated, which improves fish mortality and growth rates, and thereby increases their yield.
Rooftop Farm to Table
Urban Organics isn’t the only application of aquaponics, Pentair owns and operates Green Sky Growers, a rooftop aquaponics farms in Winter Garden, Florida. Green Sky Growers serves as a reference site for Pentair to showcase its aquaponics technology and systems.
Al Fresco, a restaurant located in the same building, sources many of its ingredients including produce, herbs and fish from Green Sky Growers. Its produce can also be found every week at the nearby Winter Garden Farmers’ Market.
Over the last two years, the Green Sky Growers system has expanded its variety of produce and more than doubled its yield, due to good greenhouse management practices.
For Urban Organics, the early yield shows promise for the potential of large-scale aquaponics. Their system harvested 450,000 kg of lettuce and fresh herbs by the start of 2014, and produced with 23,000 kg of fish. Now plans are underway to get its fresh produce into local communities. Unlike other aquaponics farms, the company plans to make fish a profitable food source, rather than just a source of biomass for its plants.
As Urban Organics grows its operations, it plans to incorporate walleye and trout into its system. An expansion to another floor of the Hamm’s brewery will bring a greater yield and more employees. This kind of growth potential is exactly what Pentair hoped to help realize with the experiment. The partnership continues, but has already provided invaluable lessons that can be applied to future food and water resource challenges.
For Pentair, further advancement of aquaponics is focused on awareness and education. Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems is a participant in the 2014 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival where it is demonstrating an aquaponics farming system. The goal of this initiative is to grow the public’s interest in non-traditional farming methods. Through efforts like this, Pentair hopes to position itself as the torchbearer in the aquaponics industry.
“Thanks to Pentair, we’re proving this model can be efficient and profitable at in a large scale. And I think we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of its possibilities.”
– David Haider, Co-Founder of Urban Organics