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The word magic conjures up something that is beyond our immediate understanding….. something wondrous that happens without us being fully aware of its workings.

For many people experiencing their first encounter with aquaponics, the synergistic relationship between fish and plants is that sort of magic.

Right now, however, I’m thinking of a new and different kind of magick……a curious mix of tent evangelism, aquarium shop voodoo and snake oil……masquerading as the Commercial Aquaponics Course.

The past year has seen vigorous discussion on commercial aquaponics right across the various aquaponics discussion forums.

Most of that discussion has focused on the University of Virgin Islands (UVI) model…..and its various mutations.

The latter day Commercial Aquaponics Course saga began, several years ago, when the folks at Friendly Aquaponics (FAP) attended a UVI commercial aquaponics course.  The UVI program had been operating for many years and is premised on the work of Dr James Rakocy and his research team.

The FAP folks returned to Hawaii, “tweaked” the UVI model, built a system and started offering commercial aquaponics courses.

The owners of Green Acre Organics (GAO) undertook the FAP course and became agents for the FAP commercial course.

The agency relationship collapsed and a new partnership, comprising Gina Cavalliero from Green Acre Aquaponics, Sylvia Bernstein and Murray Hallam, came into being.

For those who may be wondering where they’ve heard those names before, let me remind you that Gina Cavalliero (World President), Sylvia Bernstein (US Chapter President) and Murray Hallam (Australian Chapter President) are the brains trust behind the World Aquaponics Association.

The new partnership waited for the FAP folks to return to Hawaii, “tweaked the FAP model, built a system and started offering commercial aquaponics training.

Guess what happened then?

You’ve got it.

Murray Hallam returned to Australia, “tweaked the FAP/GAO model, built a system and started offering commercial aquaponics training.

Now, here’s the kicker.

Based on all of the information provided by its former manager, I believe that the Friendly aquaponics business is, premised on its production of fish and vegetables, not viable.

Based on all of the information that is available, I suggest that the Green Acres Organics aquaponics business is, premised on its production of fish and vegetables, a hobby farm.

Based on the fact that it is the smallest of the three and that is has only just begun production, I am certain that the Murray Hallam commercial aquaponics system is ……..not.

But that’s not all…..

Gina Cavalliero has limited experience of operating an aquaponics system and has yet to demonstrate its viability.  Both Sylvia Bernstein and Murray Hallam have never operated a commercial aquaponics system… rise to the question “How can you teach others something that you have not yet mastered yourself?”

Then there’s the “tweaking.”

The “tweaks” were the small changes that FAP, GAO and Hallam made to the original UVI model… enable them to legitimately claim ownership of a new and “improved” model.

Of these new and “improved” versions, the Friendly Aquaponics version is arguably the one that makes the most sense……..well, sort of.

Their system cost less to build –  a definite benefit for those who aspire to commercial aquaponics.

They also discovered that they could grow more vegetables using less fish.  While I always thought that growing fish was half of the reason for doing aquaponics, I can see that this might be a benefit for those people for whom growing fish could be problematic.

The ink on their FAP agency agreement was barely dry when the GAO folks shacked up with Sylvia Bernstein and Murray Hallam…….so they had little time….and insufficient knowledge… make much in the way of changes to the FAP system.

Hallam clearly felt that the FAP model needed improvement and wasted no time replacing what was left of the mechanical filtration with…..a media grow bed.

Lest anyone be so unkind as to suggest that the new model was simply a bastardised raft system with a grow bed, Hallam incorporated his infamous CHOP 2 technology into the design, dubbed it Flomedia……and heralded it as a “farming revolution.”

All of this gives rise to the following questions:

  • Can anyone tell me what any of the various mutations of the UVI system do better than the system from which they all derived?
  • If the FAP operation could not turn a profit……with a year-round growing season, free intern labour and a local market…….why would we think that each of the various mutations is going to be more successful than the preceding one?
  • Commercial aquaculture and commercial hydroponics both require considerable knowledge and skill in order to be successful.  What is it about the simple combination of the two that causes people (some of whom are really not all that bright) to think that they can train others to run a business based on both disciplines with none of the depth of knowledge, skills and experience required to run either type of venture – much less both of them?
  • Can someone point to a single credentialed expert in aquaculture and/or hydroponics who will attach their name to this farce?

If I might briefly return to my earlier “magic” metaphor…….this group of magicians have taken the UVI aquaponics model and stripped it of its scientific underpinnings, chucked in a media grow bed (or two) and splashed some chicken blood on it.

In much the same way that the ancient alchemists sought to turn base metals into gold, this new “farming revolution” is about turning bullshit into cash……and, sad to say, that appears to be the real magick of aquaponics.