Greenhouse Aquaponics

What is controlled environment agriculture?

Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is the use of technology to manipulate the growing environment to provide the conditions most desired by the plants and animals. Light, temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels are managed by the grower for optimum production. CEA is an intensive method of farming that maximizes its resources.

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a form of polyculture that combines hydroponic and aquaculture systems. The nutrient-rich water from the aquaculture component is used to fertilize the plants grown in the hydroponic component. Plant roots and media function as a biofilter where bacteria convert the ammonia in the fish waste into nitrates, a form of nitrogen readily available to plants.

What is hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants by exposing their roots to nutrient solutions periodically or continuously, with or without inert media. Many types of hydroponic systems exist; but the three most popular systems are floating raft, NFT (nutrient film technique), and bag cultivation.

What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals including finfish, crustaceans, mollusks, reptiles, amphibians as well as aquatic plants.

Morrisville State College CEA Greenhouse System Facts

This demonstration and research facility serves as a living laboratory for MSC students. The 4,000 gallon aquaponics system can produce up to 22,000 heads of lettuce and 1,700 pounds of tilapia per year.

  • Vine crop production includes a hydroponic tomato, cucumber and pepper system
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydroponic system grows lettuce, herbs and greens
  • 30'x60' greenhouse with 10' twin wall polycarbonate sidewalls and a double layer polyethylene roof
  • Energy curtain to retain heat or reduce solar radiation
  • Vertical airflow fans to enhance transpiration and minimize disease development
  • High pressure sodium supplemental lighting to increase photosynthesis allowing for consistent production year round
  • Fan-and-pad cooling system to lower air temperature in the greenhouse during the summer
  • Hydronic heating system, fueled partly by biodiesel, maintains air temperature at 75°F during day and 65°F at night
  • Sensors measure and record temperature, humidity, light and carbon dioxide levels
  • Computerized environmental control system automatically operates equipment to maintain stable and favorable conditions in the growing environment
Students from the aquaculture and aquatic science program and the horticulture program are involved in the operation of Morrisville's Greenhouse Aquaponics.
How is the MSC CEA system heated?

The system is heated with two boilers. One uses conventional fuel oil and the other runs on biodiesel made on campus by renewable energy program students using waste vegetable oil from the dining halls. The air in the greenhouse is heated with forced air hot-water unit heaters. The aquaponics system is heated by recirculating water through a heat exchanger connected to the boilers and through PEX tubing under the plant rafts.

What are the benefits of aquaponics and CEA?

Suitable for urban environments, CEA systems can range from small home gardens to large-scale commercial operations. Food can be grown directly in urban environments reducing transportation of fresh produce and eliminating food deserts. Aquaponics makes it possible to produce locally-grown vegetables and fish while reducing or eliminating the use of non-renewable inorganic fertilizers typically used in the hydroponics industry. Water usage and runoff are greatly reduced, which is important for the conservation of natural resources.

What crops can be produced, and how are the crops marketed?

Aquaponic systems can produce numerous plant crops (e.g. lettuce, peppers, basil, strawberries) and fish (e.g. tilapia, trout, carp). The MSC CEA system produces tilapia, a variety of lettuce and herbs, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and strawberries. The produce is sent to the college's dining facilities, and the college-run restaurant the Copper Turret. The tilapia are sold to a local grocery store. Morrisville Fresh, a student-run LLC and part of the agricultural business program, also sells the produce grown in the greenhouse at farmer's markets and on-campus sales.

Lettuce ready for delivery.
Aquaculture system raising tilapia.
Is aquaponics economically feasible?

In our current economic climate of increasing energy and labor costs, it is difficult to make aquaponics a successful business, especially in the Northeast. However, if inexpensive forms of renewable energy (biogas from landfills and anaerobic digesters, biomass, geothermal, solar, etc.) and personnel with experience in aquaponics are available, it is possible to run a commercial aquaponics operation profitably.

Tours of the Aquaculture Center are available by appointment by calling (315_ 684-6590 or (315) 684-7423.

Supported by Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida) through the Empire State Delveopment Corporation and a grant form the New York State Energy Research and Development.

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