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There is relatively little information available on the economics of aquaponics, likely due to a lack of successful commercial production before 2014. Based on information summarized in Engle (2015) and Heidemann and Woods (2015), aquaponics profitability is achievable depending on geographic location, climate, initial investment, production cost, market demand, and consumer preference for goods.
Production in USDA Zones 7-13 are typically most profitable in the U.S. due to reduced risk of losses associated with cold weather, power outages, and utility costs (Love et al. 2015). Another production factor is labor costs, which have been estimated at 46% of total operating cost and 40% of total annual cost (Tokunaga et al. 2015). Reduced delivery travel costs are associated with aquaponic production due to the capability of suburban and urban production.
An international survey of aquaponic growers found a significant relationship between sales of non-food products from aquaponics farms (i.e. training, workshops, system designs, consulting services) and the farms' profitability (Love et al. 2015). Crops grown in aquaponics can be very profitable; however, several studies have shown that the fish component is far less so. But while the crops may produce a larger profit than the fish (and the amount of space/area devoted to fish in the aquaponics system may be minimized), the "advertising-value" of the fish has a worth that exceeds the actual dollar amount brought in from fish sales. This may be even more true with systems located in the Virgin Islands and Hawaii that experience long, consistent daylight hours with little daily temperature fluctuation and where the price of fresh produce is very high.
Considering the inherent adaptability of aquaponic production, potential success should be carefully weighed from available information, a well-constructed business plan, and individual needs and inputs. An operating plan should include, but not be limited to, the investment required to construct facilities and purchase equipment, annual costs to operate the system, projections of market prices and competition, and realistic estimates of potential revenue. Based on information from three commercially surveyed aquaponic farms, the estimated payback period can be between two to five years.
Source: Janelle Hager, Leigh Ann Bright, Josh Dusci, James Tidwell. 2021. Kentucky State University. Aquaponics Production Manual: A Practical Handbook for Growers.