Publicly available data and analysis on the economic feasibility of professional aquaponics are at present very limited. Researchers from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) have published a profitability analysis of a facility that already produces fish and vegetables on a large scale. Results show that aquaponics may have both environmental and cost benefits—if produced according to good agricultural practice and under suitable conditions.
The subject of analysis was the aquaponic system of the Müritzfischer, located in Waren, Germany. This 540-square-meter facility produces fish and vegetables in a combined recirculating system. The aquaponic system was built within Innovative Aquaponics for Professional Application (INAPRO), an EU-funded project led by the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB).
The aquaponics approach developed by IGB researchers is based on two recirculating systems in which fish and plants are produced in separate units. Smart software and sensors continuously take measurements and interconnect the two cycles, whenever needed, to make optimum use of synergies, while still creating the best growth conditions for both units.
For the profitability analysis, the researchers carried out an extensive evaluation based on real one-year production data. Although the aquaponic system was not profitable at the research stage, the data it produced enabled the researchers to develop two scenarios for production practice. One scenario showed that the aquaponics approach is profitable if facilities are sufficiently large. Based on this scenario, the scientists developed a model case with defined economic key indicators, enabling them to calculate the figures for different sized facilities.
According to the IGB researchers, the main obstacles for commercial aquaponics are the high investment costs and, especially in Germany, the high operating costs such as fish feed, labor, and energy. They also state that undertakings must have the necessary expertise in both aquaculture and horticulture. Furthermore, the margin reportedly depends to a considerable extent on the market environment and the production risks, which are very difficult to forecast in some cases.