Eastern Oklahoma State College is a state leader in teaching aquaponics, a sustainable agriculture method of growing all-natural produce and fish using a re-circulating water system. Eastern partnered with Symbiotic Aquaponic, a nationally recognized and award-winning company, to install an aquaponics system in the college's 2,880-square-foot greenhouse. The greenhouse serves as a living laboratory for students in horticulture, agriculture education, agronomy and forestry classes.
Continuing Education Certificate Courses
Eastern and Symbiotic Aquaponic offer one-day certificate courses throughout the year. The course provides an introduction to aquaponic topics such as system designs, scientific principles of aquaponics and the selection of plant and fish species. Participants engage in classroom discussions and hands-on experience in Eastern’s greenhouse. All course materials are provided on the day of the class. Participants also sample produce from the aquaponic greenhouse for lunch.
Aquaponics Certificate Course
Next course is TBA
Online registration and payment is available at www.symbioticaquaponic.com.
Eastern's Agri-Business Incubator Program and USDA Organic Certification
Eastern's Agri-Business Incubator Program provides training to producers interested in a career centered on aquaponics. The Incubator is the first of its kind in the state of Oklahoma and the only program in the nation that includes instruction on the processes and procedures in involved in earning organic certification from the USDA. Organic certification is a great marketing differentiator for farmers in the commercial growing environment. Aquaponic farming is a small, but rapidly growing market and organic certification provides economic validity to an operation because farmers are able to improve the price of their produce and get a much better financial return on the crops they’re growing. Eastern partners with Symbiotic Aquaponic to offer the course instruction and training participants need to start their own aquaponic business.
- The goal of the program is to provide the education necessary for farmers to develop an organic system plan and submit it to a third-party verifying agent that will approve the operation to be USDA-certified organic.
- The program is applicable nationwide. Anyone from anywhere in the nation can participate in the program and get what is needed to become organically certified.
- The program includes 20 hours of online instruction, including introductions to aquaponics and business, an overview of the rules and regulations associated with aquaponics, financial viability of proposed operations, business formation assistance, discussion of potential financing options through government programs and financial institutions, as well as how to receive organic certification.
- The program can be completed in about 90 days, but participants are encouraged to finish at their own pace.
- Access to an aquaponic system is beneficial, but not required. Participants in the Wilburton area are provided with 100 square feet of grow space in Eastern’s state-of-the-art aquaponics greenhouse. Program participants are also encouraged to complete 20 hours of greenhouse time focused on learning aquaponic techniques and methods, including taking a crop from seed to harvest, marketing the crop, and incorporating the resulting information into a business plan.
- Enrollment in the aquaponics incubator program is open and ongoing. Participants can enroll and begin at any time.
- The cost to participate is $999. For more information, contact Dr. Kaben Smallwood.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the agricultural practice of growing plants and fish in a closed, re-circulating ecosystem.
Within a closed system aquaponics recycles water which by many estimates reduces water consumption by 90% to 99%. This is because an aquaponic system is more efficient, such that the majority of the water in the system is directly used by the plants. In traditional agriculture more water is used because very little of the water goes directly to the plant. Much of the water is lost to run-off, evaporation, and soil absorption not directly being used by the plant.
Aquaponics is a combination of both hydroponic and aquaculture methods.
This is a the simplest approach to categorizing aquaponics, but as you'll see aquaponics is distinct from both hydroponics and aquaculture. Like hydroponics, aquaponic agriculture grows plants without the use of soil. This is possible because soil is not a necessary component for growing plants. In traditional, soil-based agriculture the soil acts a reservoir for the nutrients required by plants to grow. In hydroponics, the plants pull nutrients directly from the water. However, there are very minimal nutrients in most water supplies. Therefore in hydroponic agriculture it if often necessary for the nutrients to be added to the water using organic or chemical solutions. Typically, this chemical-rich water cannot be re-used after it has been cycled through a hydroponic system and in many cases is actually considered toxic to humans and animals. In this case, the water should not be re-introduced to the environment. Admittedly, not all hydroponic production results in toxic water. The hydroponic industry has improved over the years and producers now have safer and more effective options to raise
produce. Unfortunately, not every producer (whether hydroponic or traditional agriculture) has embraced environmentally-friendly practices.
Aquaculture is a farming method used to raise aquatic species. This is done in a controlled water environment, such as large tanks, confined pools, and segragated portions in natural bodies of water. A variety of aquatic creatures that include fish, molluscs, crustaceans, and plants may be raised and harvested in these environments. However, the practice of aquaculture can cause of variety of damage to the natural environment. High-density populations of fish result in high-density waste, which must be managed through cleaning, mitigation, or removal. In natural bodies of water, waste accumulation can upset the delicate balance of the aquatic ecosystem. In the worst case scenario, the waste is not removed and the water becomes toxic to the fish resulting in a fish kill, where all the fish die. Additionally, there is ample concern about the introduction of invasive, non-native species into nature.
Both hydroponics and aquaculture on their own have challenges and require additional inputs for a single product. Hydroponics requires added nutrients and often results in an unwanted output (toxic water). While in aquaculture the burden of managing fish waste is tremendous, not to mention managing other potential environmental risks. In both methods, there is a single product, either a plant or a protein. Aquaponic agriculture combines the best of both worlds and leave behind the unwanted parts. In an aquaponic system, the fish waste in the water is cycled into grow beds where seeds or plants are growing. This fish waste water provides the essential nutrients for plant growth and reduces the need for added chemical nutrients. In turn, the plants essentially clean the waste from the water and return it back to the system where it is re-used and recycled efficiently.
Aquaponics relies upon microbiological processes to foster the relationship between plants and fish.
While the above information provides a general picture, there is actually a lot of science behind the relationship between the fish and plants thriving together. A brief explanation is as follows; however, for a more technical discussion we recommend you check out this peer-reviewed article. Ammonia is released by the fish waste, while high levels of ammonia would normally kill fish in an aquaponic system this ammonia is converted into nitrites and then into nitrates by naturally occurring bacteria that develop in the aquaponic system. Remember, not all bacteria is bad. In this case, the bacteria that occurs naturally in this system is good bacteria and necessary for a thriving aquaponic system, much like many of the bacteria humans carry on their body are good bacteria that actually keep us healthy. The nitrates that result from this conversion process are then absorbed by the plants, which provide all the necessary nutrients for the plant to grow. The result of this natural process is clean water that provides a safe environment for the fish. Check out our graphic below.
Important things to know about the aquaponic cycle.
- The bacteria in an aquaponic system takes time to grow and develop. How long it takes is dependent on the design of your specific system, the size of the system, water cycling strategies, and fish species. There are methods to assess the required time for bacteria development in your system, and we recommend that any aquaponics farmer plan for at least one month for the system to reach readiness before planting any valuable crops or using costly fish.
- The aquaponics cycle is on-going. For lack of a better word it is a batch at a time. It is a constant process that is naturally occurring at all times in the system. The water requires some basic monitoring to ensure that there is a healthy level. This can be done through water testing (which is recommended) and also experience. A seasoned aquaponics farmer will be able to look at crops and know if the water requires some adjustment. However, until you reach that point and are comfortable with the inherent risks (fish kills and loss of crops) we recommend regular water testing.
Information provided by Symbiotic Aquaponic.