Aquaponics: The Future of Sustainable Farming

A Sustainability Fund grant is helping to bring an innovative farming method to the University of Maryland, and nothing about it smells fishy.
Students, faculty and staff will build a 1,200-square-foot aquaponics research center near the Research Greenhouse Complex during the Fall 2018 semester. Aquaponics is a form of food production that integrates hydroponics (soilless crops) with aquaculture (fish production).
Jose-Luis Izursa, a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, is leading the effort.
“I’m fascinated with aquaponics because it’s not just about food production,” Izursa says. “It’s about the way you produce the food—trying to simulate what nature does.”
In the enclosed ecosystem, fish eat and produce nitrogen in their waste, which bacteria convert into fertilizer for plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish.
Aquaponics uses only 10 percent of the water required by traditional plant farming, and it eliminates the use of fertilizers or pesticides when produced indoors. Izursa is planning to use rainwater in the system to make it even more sustainable.
Members of the Green Roots student club, whose adviser is Izursa, will help build and maintain the system. Green Roots’ mission to teach people about alternative agriculture and sustainability will be interconnected with the aquaponics center.
“I want to make people aware that growing their own food is a lot easier than they imagine,” says President Michael Wijesinghe.
Izursa says the facility can be used as a teaching tool for a variety of different disciplines, including agriculture, computer science, engineering, plant sciences, environmental sciences and business.
The research done at the aquaponics center will also include peers over 1,800 miles away. Izursa and the Tecnológico de Monterrey University (tec), Campus Hidalgo, a school in Mexico that has a similar research facility, received an additional grant from the UMD-TEC Seed Grant Program to build data censors in the greenhouses.
“We’re going to put the university on the map in terms of aquaponics research and teaching,” Izursa says. “There is some research out there on aquaponics, but there are still some crucial points that need to be answered.”