Moroni couple looking to build aquaponics facility

Moroni couple looking to build aquaponics facility


By James Tilson




Cliff and Teri Sackett

MORONI—A Moroni couple have received a variance from the state of Utah to grow tilapia, a type of edible fish grown on fish farms.

But they say their operation will be much more than a fish farm. They plan to use aquaponics, a form of agriculture in which waste from fish is used to fertilize vegetable plants, and in which the vegetables are raised in water rather soil. Such a system, they say, can produce remarkable yields.

Cliff and Teri Sackett, experienced fish farmers, are looking to develop their aquaponics facility just of Moroni. The final facility, they say, will be 1 acre under glass.

“Other people have called us a ‘fish farm’,” Teri says. “It’s a lot more than that. We actually will be producing from 5,000 to 11,000 heads of vegetables a day.”

The Sacketts explain that in an aquaponics facility, fish, plants and microbes work together to achieve high efficiency. The technique uses much less water and much less space than traditional “dirt” farming, without using any chemicals as fertilizers.

The fish exude waste and ammonia into water. That water from the fish tanks is pumped into the vegetable beds, where naturally occurring microbes break down the ammonia into nitrates. Those nitrates are absorbed by the plants. The water is then filtered and pumped back into the fish ponds.

“The fish provide a constant, organic source of nutrients for the plants,” Cliff says.

The Sacketts point out aquaponics is not hydroponics. In hydroponics, plants are growing in water, but chemicals are used to fertilize the plants. The system must be flushed out at least once a year.

An aquaponics operation in which vegetables and fish are grown together in a water environment. The system shown is a little different from the one planned by Cliff and Teri Sackett of Moroni (left). In the example, fish and vegetables share the same space. The Sacketts plan to keep the fish and vegetables separate but to use water from the fish area, which will contain waste from the fish, to fertilize the vegetables.

Teri says, “One of the things I like about aquaponics is it’s self-sustaining. And where we are putting our facility under glass, there will be much less water use than (in) irrigation or hydroponics. This method is much more conducive to a drought-stricken area.”

“With dirt farming,” Cliff says, “you’re constantly having to re-fertilize, constantly watering, yet the farmer will never have it just right. And the plants have to devote significant energy to putting roots into the ground.”

“With aquaponics, the plants never have to grow through the dirt, their nutrients are constant and always correct. The growing time from seed to harvest is 42-52 days, versus 120 days for traditional methods….And with aquaponics, we’ll have a full-year growing season.”

Another advantage, Teri says, is avoidance of problems that are showing up in vegetables grown in California.

In California, farmers don’t allow manure to age. It stays in liquid form and is sprayed over the fields. The result can be e.coli.

“We don’t have that problem, because fish don’t produce e. coli,” Terry says.

Aquaponics is super productive.

“In California, an acre of lettuce would produce 20,000 heads in a season,” Cliff says. “At best, they’ll get three seasons, maybe only two. Our facility will produce 5,000 heads a day. In one week, we would do two-thirds of their season. In two weeks, we’ve produced as much as their entire year. And we can produce 12 months a year.”

At peak production, Cliff says, the Sackett aquaponics operation could conceivably produce 230,000 heads of lettuce per month. At the same time, it could produce 20,000 pounds of tilapia per month.

Right now, the Sacketts are looking for a primary investor to replace the one who dropped out as of January. They will need at least $5 million to fully capitalize their project. But they are not worried anyone else will try to take the project out from under them. “We’re the only ones with the variance (for the tilipia); it’s personal to us,” says Cliff.

Once they have the financing, they estimate it will take 8 to 9 months to build the facility and get it running.