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The Difference Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics 13 January, 2021   

New growers who haven’t done their homework are faced with a dilemma: aquaponics or hydroponics. The differences are slight but they do exist and are reflected in the materials used, the cost, the difficulty levels, and last but not least, the presence of fish. The best way to make a final decision is to examine what both techniques have to offer.

Aquaponics is easier to sell to potential customers

You know how pet shops like to place an aquarium with live fish to attract customers. Well, farmers who choose aquaponics over hydroponics can count on this marketing advantage. For instance, restaurants that grow food using aquaponics proudly display their fish in large tanks that are visible from the dining room.

Hydroponics have much more predictable costs

Speaking of the tank, its size and management are much easier in hydroponics. Unlike aquaponics, the costs of hydroponics are consistent, which means that farmers can plan months ahead. In the modern world of business, stability and predictability are often more important than the profit margin.

For example, in hydroponics farmers have an easy task of ordering nutrients as they level are roughly the same from months to month. In addition, the amount of fertilizer is easier to estimate than in aquaponics.

Aquaponic systems are complex

The tank used for aquaponics is more complex than the one used in hydroponics. This isn’t bad in itself but it means that aquaponics comes with a higher degree of maintenance. Unlike, hydroponics, there is an extra tank for the fish that requires an impeccable plumbing system to keep the fish alive.

Essentially, if you wish to take up aquaponics, you’ll need twice as much space as hydroponics. Furthermore, the initial investment is costlier, as you’ll have to buy extras, such as plumbing fixtures and fish houses. 

Which technique is cheaper?

You’ve probably heard that aquaponics are cheaper than hydroponics, right? In terms of “food,” this is true, as nutrients are more expensive than fish food. However, the amount of food the fish consume should also be taken into account.

Furthermore, fish need supplements too, although in smaller quantities. Once we add the aforementioned cost of maintenance, the scales tip in favour of hydroponics. Simply put, hydroponics is cheaper in the long run.

Hydroponic systems are easier to operate

Once your hydroponics farm grows in size, you will need to hire extra staff. At this point, you will become grateful that a hydroponic system is easy to operate and it’s fairly easy to introduce new people into soilless farming.

The training process is straightforward, as there isn’t much that can go wrong. For instance, troubleshooting is limited, so managers don’t have to work hard to come up with an efficient training program.

The snowball effect in aquaponics

Another downside of aquaponics is that there is hardly any room for error. Beginners find intricate and costly maintenance too much, so they are bound to make a mistake. Unfortunately for them, one mistake leads to the next in a snowball effect.

For instance, if one fish’s death goes unnoticed, it will endanger the health of other fish. Before you know it, the whole ecosystem will be endangered; plants and microbes included! Therefore, the operator has to be quite knowledgeable about biology and plumbing.

The issue of certification

The whole point of farming is to sell your goods, regardless of which technique you use.  However, your enterprise needs to receive a certificate before you are ready to put the price tag on food. Just the fact that hydroponics doesn’t include fish (and fish waste) makes it easier to meet the national/local certification standards. 

The (aquaponic) wait

Aquaponics slows down producers in the sense that the starting time is delayed. The process of building a healthy microbial community includes a fishless cycling period that must be at least 6 weeks long!

Even when these 6 weeks pass, the following year and a half will witness slower production because the microbial population needs time to stabilize. Admittedly, the yield of an aquaponic system is greater than the one of a hydroponic system but the cycling time drives many farmers mad.

Hydroponics is not boring

We’ve mentioned at the beginning that aquaponic farmers find it easier to promote their method of farming but that doesn’t mean that hydroponics is boring.

This is another myth that is simply not true, as nearly all hydroponic growers find it thrilling to grow unique crops.

Even the fact that hydroponics requires less maintenance goes in their favour, as they get to spend quality time with their plants. 

The essential difference between aquaponics and hydroponics is the use of fish. Aquaponics uses fish to provide nutrients but this makes this farming method more complex and costly. On the other side, hydroponics works with formulated solutions that cost more but the technique is fairly simple and doesn’t involve large investments.

Aquaponics Hydroponics Gardening

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