Aquaponics arrives in Japan – but is there a market?

Aquaponics has arrived in Japan, and is already offering opportunities for training and R&D, with eye on eventually developing a solid commercial market for aquaponically grown products.

Aquaponics is a cyclical organic farming method that is a cross between aquaculture (“aqua”culture) and hydroponics (hydro”ponics”). Microorganisms decompose fish waste and the plants absorb it as nutrients, thus allowing vegetables and fruits to be grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides. With the growing demand for organic vegetables in many markets, there has also been growing global interest in aquaponics.

The main produce usually grown using aquaponics are leafy greens such as lettuce and herbs, which have a short harvest cycle and high profitability. However, if profitability is not the goal, almost any other plant, including fruit, flowers, and ornamental plants can be grown using aquaponic technology

Leafy greens, like the lettuce growing here at Aquponi’s farm in an LED system, is one of the most common vegetables grown with aquaponics. The fish live in the tank in the circular tank on the right.

Aquponi is the first company in Japan specializing in aquaponics and recently, Meros visited Aquponi’s farm in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture to understand more about what they are planning in Japan and how the industry is developing.  Aquponi’s focus is on conducting R&D related to aquaponics, supporting the building of aquaponic farms in Japan as well as selling aquaponics kits for home use. The company aims to promote aquaponics as a sustainable growing system in Japan and providing training to individuals and companies in aquaponics through its Aquaponics Academy with both online and in person courses.. The facilities are also available for companies and universities to conduct research. They offer opportunities to experiment with working with aquaponic systems in greenhouses, using natural sunlight, as well as indoor systems, using LED lighting.

  

Above: Inspecting the fish tanks in the sunlit greenhouse and a look at the freshwater fish that are an essential part of this system.

However, finding a commercial market for aquaponic produce in Japan is still a challenge. According to Aquponi, the US leads the aquaponic market in both research and industry. In the US, aquaponic vegetables can be labeled as “aquaponic” and sold at a higher price than even regular organic vegetables. While some aquaculture companies and farmers in Japan have experimented with aquaponics, the demand in Japan for organic vegetables is much lower than in the US, and aquaponic vegetables have not yet found a market in Japan.

So while the good news is that aquaponics is gradually gaining recognition in Japan and the cultivation system itself has a variety of potential uses, including educational use in schools and horticultural medical use in hospitals, finding a market for aquaponic vegetables as an value-added product is still a challenge in Japan and is expected to be a longer term project.