Sunday, July 27, 2014

Aquaponics (Part 2): Sunflower Sprouts in Mesilla Valley in Southern New Mexico

There are some things that are intuitive. Such as the fact that trout cannot survive above 70 degrees.  But you don't think about that when someone gives you a big gift of trout to help build up your aquaponics operation.

"We thought we had it made," said Shahid Mustafa, general manager of the Mountain View Market (MVM) coopeartive, which serves the Las Cruces area.

As it turns out, trout are not the ideal fish to use to start an aquaponics operation in southern New Mexico, where summer temperatures at times reach the triple digits.  Aquapronics operations around the country use a variety of fish, and experts in the practice like Nelson & Pade say certain varieties of fish have provided good results in the U.S., including blue gill, crappie, sunfish, tilapia,  and even ornamental fish. (In Perth, Australia, they like these fish). Blue gill and catfish are among the fish that are native to middle and lower Rio Grande, while various species of trout are found in the higher elevations.

An ideal fish for all climates of New Mexico is tilapia, but that is not a native species in New Mexico, and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has  made it illegal to raise this variety of fish. Tilapia is considered an invasive species.
Tilapia are potential competitors with native fish for spawning areas, food, and space, as well as potential vectors for parasites and di seases. Populations of various species of tilapia are established in Arizona and Texas where these invasions have coincided with reductions of native fish species. Tilapia (possibly Tilapia aurea ) was introduced into New Mexico at two locations prior to 1990 as fish stockings. While these populations did not survive, the NMDGF has received and approved importation requests for small- scale, contained food industry opera tions at two facilities in th e state. The current threat is from humans illicitly translocating live fish from approved facilities or from range expansion via shared drainages. -report from New Mexico Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Council
Advocates of aquaponics in the state, including Michael McNair, chair of the New Mexico Black Chamber of Commerce,  do not understand why state wildlife officials have imposed a prohibition on the use of tilapia, which is allowed on a limited basis in some sites around the state. McNair, who organized a presentation at the End Hunger in New Mexico summit in late July and trying to promote aquaponics statewide, has launched a campaign to convince the NMDGF to lift the prohibition on the use of tilapia in aquaponics operations in the state.

Sunflower sprouts
Sunflower Sprouts and Salad Greens
For now, MVM is experimenting with catfish and other varieties some which are not typically eaten--such as goldfish). "If we could get tilapia, we could grow more produce," Mustafa said at a workshop about aquaponics at the End Hunger in New Mexico summit.

This means that the emphasis at MVM is more on the hydroponics (the cultivation of plants in water) than on aquaculture (the raising of fish). One of the top crops that MVM grows with the use of aquaponics is sunflower sprouts, which are in high demand in Las Cruces. "The reason we like sunflower sprouts is because they only take a week to grow," said Mustafa.

Shahid Mustafa gives presentation at End Hunger Summit
Mustafa believes aquaponics is uniquely suited to New Mexico, a state where saving water is important. “Aquaponics uses only one-tenth of the water as traditional field agriculture to produce the same amount of food; the same amount of water could be gone in one day or a few hours, but in the system, it will last for a few weeks," the MVM general manager said in an interview posted in Marisa Coronado's blog

On a yearly basis, Mesilla Valley Cooperative uses aquaponics to grow about 15% of its produce, mostly for sunflower sprouts, but other produce-- like greens and lettuce--are part of the present and future plans. “A head of lettuce is more fragile and has a higher price point;  we’ll be able to grow more delicate forms of produce away from the pests and harvest them for longer. We may try mixed greens,”said Mustafa. (Read More in the MVM Web site)

Stay Tuned for Parts 3 and 4 of the Series, where we will look at the aquaponics training offered by Nelson & Pade and  examine how the practice of aquaponics has taken root in the inner  cities of Milwaukee and Chicago (Growing Power).

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