Horrified by the plight of farmers across the state battling drought, Alan Smith is leveraging off his knowledge of aquaponics to create a cheap and quick way to produce feed onsite.
Aquaponics is a very efficient and fast growing method for growing plants, where fish are used to provide the nutrient rich water to plants in a recirculating, soil free environment. Without competition, plants can achieve rapid growth rates in significantly smaller spaces.
By adding water and keeping the seeds warm, 5kg of barley can be turned into 30kg of feed in seven days, using just one square metre of surface.
“Commercial systems are available, but they are expensive to both buy and run, and, importantly, take a significant amount of time out of your day,” Alan says.
Those fodder sheds create a temperature controlled environment for the plants by heating the entire room, rather than just the roots which was needed.
“I know that most farmers don’t have either spare time or money, so I set about finding a way to make it cheaper and less time consuming.
“I pitched my idea to Colin Lewis from Water Well at Albion Park, and Lachlan Voller from Vollers Albion Park Rail, and without hesitation they both came on-board providing me with the specialist designs and equipment I needed,” says Alan.
While the first system was up and running in a week, it had some issues which he’s fixed with the Mark II, which is scalable, water and energy efficient, and each two square metre tray can be harvested in seconds.
An example that everyone can relate to is that the electricity requirements for maintaining the heating system are now less than a TV on standby.
“Now I know this works, I feel a social responsibility to act,” says Alan. “Too many family farms are on the brink, and this is an efficient system they can put together themselves at low cost.
“I’ve always liked that old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish and you feed him forever.”
Following his guidance, farmers could build the system themselves, with bit they might already have or could easily source locally.
Final testing of the Mark II system requires the use of a large shed, something that Alan doesn’t have on his farm in the Jamberoo Valley.
Alan has offered to show any farmer how to do it themselves if he can get government assistance to support the final testing of the initiative. He says that Gareth Ward, the Member for Kiama, is very supportive of the idea but to date any funding is only available through a loan from the Government’s Farm Innovation Fund, rather than through a grant.
“I have been talking with farmers around the state and they are really interested in the method. My years of experience in managing major projects tells me that it is important to do this final testing in a controlled environment,” says Alan.
Following extensive coverage on the ABC, he is fielding enquires from all over the state, from people who can’t afford to wait.
“We need a 200 square metre shed nearby and some funds to iron out any issues which might present themselves as we scale up the system.
“I’ve established a Go Fund Me page, but unfortunately some people haven’t understood that I’m doing it for altruistic reasons. I’m not trying to make money out of it, just share my knowledge with others.”
As an alternative to building a new shed, if someone knows of a large shed which is currently vacant that Alan could use for a month, he’d love to hear from you.
Details: Alan is happy to talk to farmers about the system’s potential. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information available at http://www.gofundme.com/help-me-droughtproof-our-farmers