Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Aquaculture and Agriculture in Harmony

Points to consider based on experiences in the Prairie Region of Canada. Dec 19 2005

Recent times have seen an increased interest in Aquaculture as a potential opportunity for farm diversification; this renewed interest is encouraging and worthwhile. Much of this new interest is at a grass roots level where individual family farms are actively seeking alternate forms of agriculture and new economic opportunities. However this heightened awareness will fade unless concrete and solution oriented efforts are made at mitigating the potential knowledge and educational constraints faced by many would be participates.

To successfully integrate commercial scale Aquaculture production into an existing agriculture farm the economic considerations must be carefully examined. A farmer must be able to review and access the potential long-term benefits and become convinced that they warrant the investment required. The potential risks must be fully explored and accounted for within any financial modeling. The operation must also be planned to make the best synergistic use existing assets while still being capable of performing at an economically viable level.

I have over the years realized (through trial and error) that farm design alone does not guarantee success in the business. Sure, there are many new and exciting technologies emerging bringing improvements are good for the industry. It is exciting that recent advances greatly improved the performance, sustainability eco-friendliness of the industry. New farm designs and system technologies have made it possible that Aqua Farms can be operated in areas with limited water supplies and can be combined with other crop production to create even further on farm diversification. The technology are great and required, but Technology alone does not guarantee success.

Future fish farmers will also require comprehensive data dealing with production options, alternatives, investment required, operational costs, benefits to existing operations and other social economic factors. In addition the farmer needs to have access to training and skills development and longer term support for continual evaluation, refinements and business expansion.

Without training, good knowledge and proper management resources, it is unlikely that the average farmer wishing to diversify into aquaculture will be successful. Commercial scale Aqua Farming can require a sizable financial investments making knowledge and management ability all the more important in protecting and achieving a return on investment.

Most of the key deciding factors governing Aqua Farming investment decisions are not readily apparent or within easy access to the general public. In Manitoba, this lack of knowledge combined wuth the absense of a facility (or means) to witness the demonstration of working viable models, creates a justified roadblock in the minds of people that would otherwise embrace the opportunity. Many potential farmers do not yet have a comfort level sufficent to make the decision to invest in the industry. Their thoughts could be expressed as “let me see a working example and a business plan then I can determine if it can work for me”.

At this stage, it wouldn’t be wise to encourage new industry entrants "to attempt to duplicate a full scale commercial farm" without first getting their feet wet and gaining first hand knowledge and training.

However if the private sector and public sector collaborate in a mutually beneficial way it is likely that more effective co-sponsored research and development activities can be undertaken providing timely support to commercial operators while ensuring that more potential operators will be able to access top level up to date knowledge.

An effective means to demonstrate the farming process in a practical and scalable fashion will encourage further commercial development. Farm demonstration and training are two key ingredients in fostering future aqua farm development. These have to be made available in a manner that fits with the time and financial resources of the existing agri-business owner.

Smaller scale demonstration type farms are required to trigger growth of the provincial industry while allowing lower levels of risk exposure by future operators.

Commercially oriented demonstration farms with an information exchange component have been proven effective in furthering the development of fish farming in other locations.

Related Article “Starting a New Aquaculture Business? – Here are some suggested guidelines to help ”

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