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Copyright © 2019 MorningStar Aquaponics
When you think of Wisconsin, you don’t think of salmon? Or leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and etc. I think of dairy cows and cheese!
Along with the greenhouse is a replicated North Atlantic Ocean 1-acre fish house. Thousands up thousands of salmon ranging from newly hatched eggs brought in from Iceland to 10 pounds after two years of growth. They are raised in 22,000-gallon tanks filled with fresh water drawn from a 180-foot well.
At this time, 95 percent of the Atlantic salmon consumed in the U.S. is mostly imported from countries such as Norway and Chile. Then about 90 percent of the lettuce grown in the U.S. comes from California and Arizona which is grown by traditional farming methods.
According to Superior Fresh, they are the largest aquaponics facility. “This is really a pioneering facility that’s breaking all the molds,” said Steve Summerfelt, an aquaculture systems expert and the chief science officer for Superior Fresh. “We’re truly disrupting food systems.”
The financial backers of this project are Todd Wanek, the CEO of Ashley Furniture, and his wife, Karen. They have put millions of dollars of support to ensure of its success.
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. The water is circulated from the fish tanks into the greenhouse to help the plants to grow. Some will say jokingly, fish poo equals plant power; it provides the nutrients for the plants. Then the water is recirculated back to the fish tanks. The beautiful thing is, it’s all certified organic with no pesticides, growth hormones or other additives.
The goal for the future is to develop even larger facilities on the east and west coasts that could potentially be twice the size of the current location in Wisconsin providing fresh greens and salmon to millions of people.
Because of the controlled environment, Superior Fresh can ensure cleanliness including bio-security to prevent crop contamination. Food safety is a major concern especially with recent scares that occurred with e-coli outbreaks with romaine lettuce. Click "READ MORE" in lower right to read the rest of the article
“I think it’s a natural progression of the industry,” said Chris Hartleb, a professor of fisheries biology at UW-Stevens Point and co-director of the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility in Bayfield. “They went for a very high-valued fish in salmon. The challenge that Brandon is facing is that when you’re the first of a kind, there’s no one to show you the way. He’s kind of inventing both an inland Atlantic salmon culture and tying it into the growth of plants. So, there’s a couple of technical hurdles he has to jump over and figure out.”
The building of the Superior Fresh aquaponics facilities began in 2015. The company sold its first package lettuce in 2017 and the Atlantic salmon was in July 2018. Now, they have begun construction of the second greenhouse began in May 2018 and is expected to go online in May 2019. The second fish house will begin construction in 2020.
The company is studying ways of greater efficiency such as the addition of solar panels to power the systems. The main goal is to fine tune the operations for a greater level of profitability by further automation.
“We have great food, a great team and a production facility that can be (replicated) across the country,” said Summerfelt. “We’ve developed technology to work within the regulatory framework. We have zero surface water discharge and that’s a very powerful statement.”
The Superior Fresh system contains around 850,000 gallons of water in the greenhouse. There are interior and exterior weather stations that talk to each other. A computerized system will open and close roof vents to help regulate the temperatures. For example, recently, the outside temperatures were in the mid-20’s, the greenhouse temperatures were 76 degrees. During the polar vortex, interior temperatures dropped to the upper 50’s.
Over 40 varieties of greens are grown, some on an experimental basis. Around a dozen, varieties are sold to local retail outlets or distributors in the Wisconsin area. Atlantic salmon and steelhead salmon are shipped whole and on ice to Festival Foods, Trig’s and restaurants in western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities.
Growing salmon provides a higher rate of return compared to input costs from other meats raised in Wisconsin. With beef, it takes about 10 pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. A pig needs five pounds of feed to create a pound of pork while poultry requires three pounds of feed for a pound of meat, Gottsacker said. At Superior Fresh, it takes 1.1 pounds of feed to get one pound of salmon.
“Then you take the waste from that fish and the water that it grows in is full of nutrients and we’re growing another 10 pounds of produce,” Gottsacker said. “So, it’s one pound of fish food into the system and 10 to 11 pounds of fish and plants out, which is really cool. It’s much, much more efficient.”