Dr Wilson Lennard on the Future of Aquaponics

Dr Wilson Lennard is an Australian scientist with a PhD in Applied Biology. He has studied and installed commercial aquaponics systems around the world. In this final part four, he turns his attention to the future of aquaponics and the threats that can set it back many years.

Is Aquaponics the answer to feeding the planet? Has it got any future?

A topic close to my heart. I must say, I am well over the whole “aquaponics will feed the world” talk.   It won’t!

The world lives primarily on mass produced carbohydrate (wheat, rice, corn etc…). These crops are grown by the Millions of hectares; aquaponics will never replace that.

What I think aquaponics can do is expand the range of vitamins and minerals the world has access to. Many people do starve, but on the whole, enough calories are produced to feed all. However, for proper human health and well being, vitamins and minerals are required and it is this range that many people don’t have access to; basically living on carbohydrate and that is all. So, with aquaponics, we can expand access to vitamins and minerals from the plants and some small amount of additional protein from the fish.

In the western world, the future I believe is niche scale production of high value fish and vegies. In the developing world it is expanded access to vitamins and minerals and protein; that is the future, directed use, not wide scale “feeding the entire planet” type stuff.

 

Whats the biggest threat to building an “Aquaponics Industry” as you see it?

Charlatans and “aquashisters“, as my friend Jim Rakocy calls them. I call the current USA market in aquaponics the “American Circus”! It happens with all new technologies, and a good example is hydroponics. People who know nothing come along early and try and sell allot of stuff then disappear after ripping people off.

Then the industry suffers and no one looks at it for another generation.

This happened to hydroponics, especially in America, where they have a very low uptake of hydroponic technology. There are bullshitters and rip-off merchants already entering the USA market and so i see the outcome as inevitable. This will mean it may take another 20 – 30 years before wide spread commercial aquaponics is seen.

In terms of Australia I see things differently.

We are very fortunate here that the two major players in the backyard industry have peoples best interests at heart and want to keep improving their own knowledge of aquaponics. I don’t agree with everything they say, do or advise, but I think they are on the right track and have the correct intentions for their customers, and so I openly try and support them as I think they are the type of people the industry needs.

What are your plans for the future?

I am getting by with aquaponics consulting. However, I have found that humans generally (and Australians especially) put little value on advice. You make better income from selling hardware, even if it isn’t that great, than knowledge, which people seem to think should be for free. I also work in other industries; wetland design, water sensative urban design, aquaculture, sewage treatment and aquatic ecology, so my income is OK as I have this wide income producing set of skills. I will continue with all of those. I dream of building my own commercial system that is financially viable and this will allow me to also continue my research at my own facility to further develop my aquaponics design and management approach. It should also shut a few people up who seem to take delight in rubbishing everything I attempt to do in aquaponics.

I also have a new community style system (easy to manage commercial production for community food production) I have developed with Stephen Mushin of CERES environment park in Melbourne and we have just added the fish (about 2,000 of them) so that will be up and producing plants within the next month and so i have a lot of work to do with that at present. I am also going to start to look at other hydroponic methods using other nutrient sources, mostly from waste that is currently just thrown away.