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What are the most common sensors at hydroponic farms? What sensor should I buy for my aquaponics system? What parameters do you monitor in an aquaponics system?

These are all pressing & valid questions. What we want to look at today is a thought framework that can help you answer all of these questions and more.

It does require that you want to think about the situation, your goals, and the future of your farm. If you're not interested in that, please feel free to stop here.

Threat Analysis of Aquaponic, Hydroponic and Aquaculture Farms

Operating your farm usually means you're trying to balance a number of variables. These variables are a critical threat to your business longevity should any of them begin to change out of the optimal range.

If one or more of your variables slip out of their optimal range you may experience:

  • Yield Loss
  • Fish Death
  • Nutrient Burn
  • Unmet Contracts with Distributors
  • Lower nutrient content
  • ... and lots of other stuff...

Here is what that tension feels like:

Threat Analysis of an Aquaponic & Hydroponic Farm

Our goal, as next-gen farmers, is to do our best to keep our farm operating in the "Optimal Growth Zone." All of the variables in our system are sliding across the arrows at any given point.

We also have external threats like environmental (weather shifts, greenhouse failures), biological (pest control, viruses, etc), and economical (not able to pay for the air blower or no salary for employees) factors that threaten the farm.

This is where technology comes in...

Mitigating Risk with Technology

There are different technologies you can use to help mitigate risk in your system. Here are a few that we've found critical to a fish or plant operation:

Water Quality Test Kits

Managing water quality is absolutely essential when dealing with aquaponics, hydroponics, and aquaculture. Knowing parameters like pH, Nitrogen, and EC will help you avoid severe issues in your farm.

If you're interested in learning more, see what the FAO has to say about which water quality parameters are essential and why.

Official Lab Testing for Water Quality and Sap Analysis

On a scheduled and recurring basis you should be testing your water quality and plant sap with a respected laboratory.

You can also use brix testing to see the sugar content of your plants. This will help you increase the quality of your yield and potentially help you cut back on your pest control if you can keep your brix high.

Integrating Sensors and Portable Meters

Use sensors to get continuous data on your farm. Use portable meters to get intermittent sanity checks about your farm. This simple step will help you monitor your farm while you're away and give you tons of valuable data to analyze so you can improve your yield, operations and growing experiments.

How to choose the right technology

We just listed a lot of options for things you can do to help mitigate risk. This is where the analysis comes in...

In my technology background I would often walk people through this framework as a way to help them know what they should be using to secure their assets. It's an essential framework that helps us choose correctly. It starts off with a simple question:

What are you trying to protect (assets)?

Think about your farm, what are you trying to mitigate/protect?

  • Harvest Yields?
  • Fish Quantity?
  • Powdery Mildew?
  • Fish Health?
  • Nutrient Burn?
  • Employee Salaries?
  • Crop Loss?

List out the things that keep you up at night. Sort them in order of priority ("mission critical" to "nice to have")

What are you trying to protect it from (threats)?

Think about the chart above (environmental risk, biological risk, economical risk, etc.) and list the factors that threaten your "assets".

  • Pests?
  • Bad pH?
  • High VPD?
  • Pump Failure?

Which technology helps you solve those risks?

Now that you know what you're trying to protect (assets) and what you're trying to protect it from (threats) you can now choose what technology will mitigate the assets from the threats.

Example #1: I want to protect my harvest growth cycle from poor fluctuations in pH. I need to implement a pH probe that keeps a constant pulse on my harvest area.

Example #2: I want to protect my plants from powdery mildew from high VPD. I need to implement a temperature and humidity probe so I can calculate VPD and make sure it stays within range.

While we hope you work through this framework to figure out your contextual threats, we have noticed some patterns.

Here is what we’ve seen in general for water quality:

  • Greatest threat prevention metrics: pH, Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates
  • Next implemented metric to prevent fish death: DO, Temp (if you are in cold climates esp)
  • Nice to haves: lab test results for full spectrum

What we’ve seen in general for greenhouse:

  • Greatest threat prevention (and cost effective): temperature / humidity for VPD and prevention of mildew for example
  • Next implemented metric: generic light sensors, power consumption
  • Nice to haves: light spectrum sensors and leaf temperature to prevent small harvest and optimize growth

Start tracking your data

This is a very close topic to us here at Aquaponics AI. We believe the success of the farmer comes from the farmer understanding their farm more, having continuous monitoring, and connecting the farmer with a global network of experts.

We have built the tools, resources, alert frameworks for you to implement these strategies directly on your dashboard because we believe that the future of next-gen farming is data-driven.

Click here to see how we can help mitigate risk and streamline your farmops today!


Jonathan Reyes

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