Ag Students Study Aquaponics

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Zach DuCharme, Nick Johnson and Joshua Linder stand next to their grow bed. The fish tank with its automatic feeder can be seen through the window of the greenhouse.

 

Prairie du Chien agriculture students build aquaponics system

By Ted Pennekamp

 

A group of Prairie du Chien High School agriculture students have been delving into the interesting and increasingly popular field of aquaponics this year. Zach DuCharme, Nick Johnson, Joshua Linder and Travis Strnad have built an aquaponics apparatus in the greenhouse and are hoping to grow fish as well as plants.

DuCharme, Johnson and Linder explained that the apparatus consists of a tank for the fish which has a vacuum that pumps water off of the bottom, up through a tube and into a growing bed for plants. The fish tank also has air pumping into it and an automatically timed feeder for the fish.

“It took a lot of planning,” said DuCharme, who noted that the system was completed in early January. 

“The goal is to grow fish and to grow plants,” said Johnson. “We will observe and learn and eventually pass it on to other classes.” 

Johnson, DuCharme and Linder said that plants such as leafy lettuce that can grow in water will be produced. They explained that, along with water, the grow bed has porous hydroton clay pebbles in it that absorb and digest bad bacteria. Johnson said that the fish will produce nutrients (fish poop) which will then be pumped into the grow bed so that the leafy lettuce will grow faster and healthier. The plants, in turn, help to purify the water.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” said Linder. “It will benefit the fish and the plants.”

Johnson said that about 15 hybrid bluegills will be obtained from the fish hatchery near Genoa. He explained that the bluegills are hearty, adapt well to their environment and are not very susceptible to disease. Hybrid bluegills are a cross between a male bluegill and a female green sunfish. 

DuCharme said that they may get some minnows or other fast growing fish to test the system out before they get the bluegills. When the bluegills get big enough, they may be eaten.

Linder applied for and received a $750 Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) Grant sponsored by the FFA Foundation to pay for materials and other expenses of the project. The group said they would eventually like to add another grow bed.

“This is a great project in order for them to gain hands-on experience,” said agriculture teacher Diane Colburn, who noted that hands-on learning is what the SAE Grant is all about, in addition to having the students explore possible agricultural careers. “The industry is growing,” she said. “These systems provide a protein source and fresh produce in a small area.” Colburn noted that several hog barns in Iowa, for example, have recently been converted and are now producing shrimp.

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