Aquaponics Lands in Penn St.

Not all is doom and gloom in Happy Valley these days…

Source: Penn St.

Penn St. AquaponicsAfter spending five days this spring studying aquaponics at the University of Arizona, College of Agricultural Sciences student Jessica Foster and greenhouse manager Scott DiLoreto are developing the first aquaponic system at Penn State…

DiLoreto heard from a colleague about the aquaponics course — an intensive, five-day look at “controlled-environment agriculture” — offered at the University of Arizona and suggested that he and Foster attend to learn more before taking on the project.

“We were there pretty much from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon,” DiLoreto said. “There was a lot of information presented. But I was really impressed by how focused she stayed through it all.”

They learned a lot, Foster said.

“The program covered a range of topics, from basic plant needs to greenhouse engineering,” she said. “And one whole day was dedicated to aquaponics, taught by international experts.”

Aquaponics differs from hydroponics in that hydroponics relies on the addition of nutrient salts to the water to grow plants, rather than relying on the nutrients naturally occurring in fish waste.

“Aquaponics is the coupling of two biological systems,” DiLoreto explained. “The plants feed off the fish and the fish purify the water for the plants — so at the end you have two products, fish and plants. It’s a much more natural process.”

He noted that sustainable methods are used in aquaponic greenhouses. “You can’t use most pesticides because they’re toxic to fish,” he said. “One needs to focus primarily on biological pest management.”

DiLoreto added that he believes aquaponic systems go hand-in-hand with increased interest in greener, sustainable agricultural practices and organic and locally-grown foods.

Current plans for the Penn State aquaponics system include using two 300-gallon tanks to grow tilapia, and a large hydroponics area where basil, lettuce,  and micro-greens will be grown.

Foster, who hopes to start her own aquaponics business after she graduates, felt that the most important lesson she learned from the University of Arizona course was that developing an aquaponic system is entirely feasible.

“There’s definitely a market for aquaponics. People already have begun growing things this way,” she said. “It’s just exciting to know that I have the opportunity to expand upon it.”

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