Mesa Community College students are working diligently to raise giant freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) in several carefully constructed aquaponic systems in the college’s Center for Urban Agriculture.
This research project provides MCC’s Sustainable Agriculture students with first hand, AgTech experience; using high-tech methods to improve crop yields, reduce costs and employ sustainable practices to find new ways to efficiently feed our growing global population.
Students, under the direction of MCC aquaponics instructor George Brooks, Jr., Ph.D., are observing, recording and experimenting with the prawns environment to determine the optimal conditions for the creature and vegetation to thrive.
“We are modifying our successful growth of vegetation and tilapia, exploring how prawns react to their new environments, determining which plants will thrive with and aid in the growth of the prawns.” said Brooks. “If we can one day grow prawns the size of a small lobster in Mesa, Arizona just imagine the possibilities. We can contribute to the world’s food supply and help feed billions of people while being more cost effective and resource savvy.”
Aquaponics is a symbiotic food production system where animals (fish etc…) and plants are cultivated together in a constructed ecosystem. There is expanding interest in aquaponics as a form of aquaculture that may be used to produce food closer to urban centers. “MCC is one of the first community colleges in the nation to offer a for-credit course in aquaponics,” Brooks said. “The industry is growing by leaps and bounds.”
Aquaponics is one of the courses students may take to earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Sustainable Agriculture. MCC first offered the degree, the first of its kind in Arizona, during the fall of 2014. The degree provides students with both the technical and small business skills needed to manage or develop a small farm or agricultural business.
The aquaponics and sustainable agriculture fields have wide implications ranging from farmers and processors to consumers and entrepreneurs who build innovative business products and services.
The industry’s annual growth rate is estimated at more than 10 percent from 2016 to 2020, fueled by an increasing demand for organic food, according to Sprout Intelligence Analysts. They add that the global aquaponic farming market was worth more than $500 million in 2015.
Brooks will present the findings of this semester’s research at the World Aquaculture Society’s Aquaculture America 2018 conference in February 2018.