A) a fun and cool learning experience or
B) tips on starting a commercial farm from the ground up.
The latter group tends to be slightly reserved during the beginning of the tour, a disposition which I can only assume to stem in part from a fear of my reaction to potential competition in the market. In an effort to quell this notion, I usually address it immediately with something like “at this stage, the industry is so young that the more of us that are out there doing it, the better it will be for everyone.” However, this statement is not an entirely accurate description of the cause of my willingness to share information I have learned.
Truth be told, I’m willing to share information because I want the tourer to have a fun and pleasant experience; but also because I have little faith that many of them will actually end up starting a commercial farm. Unfortunately, the aquaponics industry is riddled with misinformation, and those with valid information tend to operate with secrecy. This makes it difficult for an aspiring aquaponics farmer to know where to start, or who to trust. I can identify with that, because that was me for a long time.
That being said, for anyone who wants my opinion on the matter, I’ve put together a short list of starting points for the aspiring aquaponics farmer. Hopefully it will help some people avoid some pitfalls that I was unlucky enough to experience.
Take a class, but take the information with a grain of salt. It’s pretty hard to mess up the basic biology of how aquaponics causes plants to grow, but skip the patented technology and advanced techniques.
Before even getting into the business side of things, make sure you start a small system. It will take a week or so to set up, and you can work on planning while it’s up and running. This is the stage where you want to experiment with different types of systems, methods, and plans. Find something that is simple and works well, then go with it.
Most importantly, know who your market is, what they will buy, why they will buy from you instead of where they are buying it now, and how much they will pay. Use these numbers against your projected costs, and see what your potential profits could be. Always be conservative on revenue projections, and extreme with cost projections. That was you will see what the worst case scenario will be like.
If your market is retail, lock down a small coop. If it is restaurants, lock down a small local spot near your home. If you’re thinking CSA, sell to one friend. A lot of people and businesses will tell you they will buy, but when it comes down to the money actually coming out of the bank, it’s a whole different ball game. Getting one paid customer will help validate your projections and help you with your planning. You should be able to sell them a minimal amount from your home system.
If you’ve got a paying customer, you’ve at least got the fabric of a replicatable system. Every start up raises money from the four F’s to begin with. Friends, Family, Fools, and Felons. Find some of these who are willing to become your business partner and fund stage 1 of your venture.
Scale up slowly, as your demand increases. It’s always better to not have enough product than to have too much product. Add customers, then add capacity.
Most of all, don’t wait around too long. You’ll never be able to plan your way into success and most of your plans are going to either change, or flat out fail anyway. Do your homework, then take action. That is the best advice I can give anyone who wants to start a farm.
As always, remember to Live Local and support local business.