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Wisconsin farmers are continually innovating when it comes to methods of growing and raising our food supply. Aquaponics, a process which allows producers to raise and grow a protein and vegetable crop simultaneously, has recently seen an increase in popularity.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture – raising fish in water – and hydroponics – raising plants in water. Plants grown in a hydroponic or aquaponic system are not grown in a traditional method using soil. Instead, the plants receive their nutrients directly from the water they are grown in. An aquaponic system creates a symbiotic relationship between the fish, plants, and beneficial bacteria.

Currently, Wisconsin is home to the largest aquaponic farm in the world. Superior Fresh, located in Hixton, began raising and growing food in 2017. Their company specializes in organic leafy greens, Steelhead trout, and Atlantic salmon. Yes, you read that right! Thanks to their innovations in controlled-environment agriculture, it is now possible to enjoy locally-grown, fresh salmon in the Midwest.

From start to finish, the fish at Superior Fresh are raised on-site. Beginning as a fish egg, the fish will hatch, eat, swim, and grow. To mimic nature, the schools of fish swim against a current most of their lives. When a fish reaches 10 pounds, it is ready for harvest. Currently, Superior Fresh produces 200,000 pounds of fresh salmon per year, with plans to grow to that number to 1.2 million pounds per year.

Wisconsin is also home to Nelson and Pade, Inc., a leading supplier of aquaponic systems, training, and support. To date, their Wisconsin-made systems have been shipped to 27 countries and nearly every US state. Their company manufactures complete aquaponic systems for home, school, research, and commercial use. Each system is designed with efficiency in mind. On average, 12-14 pounds of vegetables can be grown for every pound of fish raised, thanks to their patented filtration system.

Nelson and Pade is also known world-wide for their Aquaponics Master Class®. This comprehensive course is taught by industry experts, and has seen enrolled students from around the globe. The training features lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on learning, covering all aspects of aquaponics. Students learn about proper growing techniques, the importance of water quality, and recommendations for crop choices in their systems.

The varieties of plants and species of fish that are able to be grown and raised in an aquaponic system vary. Important factors are the temperature and pH needs for each organism. The fish and plants should have similar needs, and although a compromise may need to be made, the closer they match, the more successful the system will be. Generally, warm, fresh water fish and leafy crops, such as lettuce, greens and herbs will do the best. Other examples of crops grown in Wisconsin aquaponic systems include kale, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and broccoli.

Aquaponics is on the rise across the United States, and farmers and processors in Wisconsin are certainly leading the way. Learn more about aquaponics in Wisconsin at superiorfresh.com (Superior Fresh) or aquaponics.com (Nelson and Pade).

Abigail Martin in the state's 72nd Alice in Dairyland

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