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Published: Monday February 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday February 3, 2014 MYT 7:27:28 AM

A double harvest

Integrated farming: John Morris practises aquaponics at his farm in Virginia, the United States — the wastewater from his tilapia fish ponds fertilises his crops.  -MCT

Integrated farming: John Morris practises aquaponics at his farm in Virginia, the United States — the wastewater from his tilapia fish ponds fertilises his crops. -MCT

In aquaponics, plants and fish grow together in one integrated system.

USING fish to make fertiliser isn’t a new concept. But John Morris has modernised the process through a sophisticated farming operation called aquaponics.

Last February, Morris turned his 3.2ha Isle of Wight, Virginia, spread into the Herb Aqua Farm. Inside two large greenhouses, Morris raises tilapia fish in large tanks. The fish produce waste, and the wastewater is processed into a kind of liquid fertiliser. Part of the water is channelled into hydroponic beds inside the greenhouse and the rest is pumped outside to fertilise Morris’ in-ground crops.

The operation gives Morris two sources of income. By March, his first batch of tilapia will have grown large enough to sell. And the crops he grows – lettuce, herbs and vegetables – can be marketed year-round.

“It’s the only farming method where you can produce both a protein product and a farming product,” Morris says.

In his greenhouse, Morris grows greens hydroponically using wastewater from the fish he raises.
In his greenhouse, Morris grows greens hydroponically using wastewater from the fish he raises.

Lisa T. Perry, director of economic development in Isle of Wight County, says Morris’ operation fits in with the county’s goals. “It’s another form of agri-business, and it shows exactly how things are changing in that field,” she said.

In aquaponics, plants and fish grow together in one integrated system – without soil. The result is a continuous supply of fresh, organic food that can be grown in minimal space with almost no impact on the environment.

Morris, 56, is passionate about “green” methods of farming that don’t require herbicides and pesticides. These products have polluted the Chesapeake Bay and killed off the earthworms and the healthy bacteria in the soil.

In his farm, two 7m by 32m covered bays hold a maze of steel tanks and pipes. At the far end sit large hydroponic beds waiting to be planted. Morris uses a wood furnace to heat the facility. Large grow lights suspended from the ceiling ensures year-round growing operations.

Morris purchased his first batch of small tilapia fingerlings back in August. The warm water fish live in tanks heated to about 22°C. The wastewater is filtered through a clarifier that traps the solids. The nutrient-rich water is pumped into the beds.

In his hydroponic beds he’s growing basil, lettuce, Swiss chard, yellow pea tomatoes and radicchio. He wants to add kale because “everyone at the farmers’ market was asking for it ... they juice it.” — Daily Press/McClatchy Tribune Information Services

Tags / Keywords: Environment, Environment, ecowatch, aquaponics

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