They both sound very modern and techie, much like new gadgets that come out every now and then, one after another. However, while they do make use of technology at some level, they are nowhere near being gadgets or machines.
Aquaponics and Hydroponics actually have more to do with planting/gardening and aquaculture rather than IT.
Aquaponics vs Hydroponics
Before any comparison is made, it is important to first describe or define each word. Below are Dictionary.com’s descriptions:
“the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.”
“a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.”
Based on definition alone, aquaponics is somehow an offshoot of hydroponics, which is simpler.
It has been a subject of debate whether one technique is better than the other. Many believe that aquaponics is the better alternative to hydroponics. Is it? Or is it the other way around, as some others believe?
To better decide, it is imperative that comparisons are made. But first, learn what they have in common:
- Both use highly-oxygenated, nutrient-rich water.
- Both result in better growth rates as compared to soil-grown plants.
- Both use nutrient film technique (NFT) and deep-water culture (DWC), although aquaponics only borrowed these ideas from hydroponics.
That said, how do they differ? According to UpstartFarmers.com,…
“aquaponics draws you in with the allure of living creatures, and hydroponics with its precision and control.”
“Aquaponics and hydroponics vary in finance, difficulty, materials, and set up. The main differentiating factor is the fish (or lack of fish).”
“aquaponics uses fish to provide nutrients, and hydroponics uses formulated solutions.”
In other words, both have advantages and disadvantages that must be considered.
Since hydroponics is where aquaponics is based on, it is fair to know the advantages of using it.
- has no need for soil
- is stable
- is high-yielding
- is pesticide-free
- causes no nutrition pollution
- has lower nutrient requirements
- has lower water requirement (water is reusable)
It seems like using hydroponics could be quite worth it.
So how do these two techniques really differ then?
Hydroponics is more controllable. It fits more convenient business models.
Cost of Chemical Nutrients
Hydroponics is expensive with the cost continually rising. Aquaponics is cheaper because it uses fish feed that incidentally also produces bigger plants.
Nutrient Solution Retention
Water in hydroponic systems sometimes needs to be unloaded to rid of salts and chemicals that can harm plants. In aquaponics, there’s a natural balance of hydrogen and water, so there is no need to replace anything.
There are quicker and better results when using aquaponics. This observation is based on several studies.
In an aquaponic system, the pH and ammonia levels are only checked once a week, the nitrate levels once a month. Checks are done daily with a hydroponic system.
Hydroponics uses a man-made environment while aquaponics replicates the natural ecosystem. There are better growth and lower disease rates in the second.
Aquaponics having live animals as part of the production process is something that attracts farmers more. They see aquaponics as a great marketing tool. It attracts more consumers.
Because a hydroponic system is easier than an aquaponic one, it is easier to operate and train employees.
Building the System
Building an aquaponics system can be quite complicated as compared to building a hydroponics one. It can also cost 30%-50% more than when building a hydroponics system.
Costs for hydroponic production can be more predictable and consistent that using hydroponics may mean better financial stability.
Because building it is complicated, the aquaponics system also takes a longer cycling time or a delayed starting time. Add in the time for the learning curve in management. There must be a fishless cycling period of more or less six weeks. That eats valuable time. And then there are the 18 months expected depressed production. Only after establishment can the benefits be reaped.
GAP and Organic Certification
There are fewer chances of contamination in hydroponics. Therefore, it is easier to get a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. There are fewer hassles, in other words. However, it is easier to get an Organic certification with aquaponics.
Choosing the Better Option
It is not simply about what everyone thinks is better. Choosing between the two systems should be more about what should work for an individual grower.
Know all the options and weigh all the pros and cons based on individual needs and resources. When done, that’s when the better technique wins.