Aquaponics: The Trouble with Fish-Farm Marijuana
By Owen Petrie
Aquaponics. It sounds like one of those newfangled words corporations make up in order for ordinary things to sound important. It is derived from the combination of two traditional food production methods: aquaculture & hydroponics. Fish and plants. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Aquaponically grown marijuana sounds especially funky. Who wouldn’t want a medicinal toke off of something like that?
Well, I wouldn’t…and it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of ganja cultivated in fish shit.
Here’s the process: Freshwater fish doo-doo (that is the scientific term) is rich with ammonia. Bacterial organisms called nitrosomanas and nitrobacters convert the ammonia to nitrate. The newly converted nitrate fertilizes the plant. Man has learned how to manipulate this beauteous symbiotic relationship. Nature is a marvelous thing, and for many plants other than marijuana, aquaponics is an ingenious use of nature’s intricate, life-giving majesty.
For marijuana, however, particularly if it is to be harvested for its potent medicinal properties, the window of opportunity to take aquaponic advantage of that biological interrelation is remarkably small.
Fish-farm technology is only viable during the herb’s vegetative cycle. The vegetative cycle is only about 5-10% of a growing operation. The nitrogen heavy water created by the fish’s fecal matter is not healthy for the plant during the bloom phase of plant growth—which is 90% of the growing cycle and operations—and collects on the roots. The accumulation of fecal matter on roots creates nutrient uptake problems and possible contamination issues.
Some large-scale pot producers who use aquaponics, such as some of the companies vying for one of the five medicinal marijuana licenses that will be granted by the State of New York, will invariably use greenhouse-type buildings for their operation. That’s not a good thing. Those sorts of edifices are veritable tenements of mold, fungus and pathogens that demand the use of pesticides, which become concentrated in the medicinal extraction process.
There is also the processing of the actual fish in an aquaponic operation commingled with the complexities of a marijuana agribusiness. Frankly, it’s just bad business. It contributes to unnecessary security risks and high maintenance issues, which in turn diminish the viability of the business.
Also, in regard to the quality of the product, the growth and processing of the marijuana could be affected in harmful ways, which defeats the purpose of cultivating medicinal cannabis. If the helpful properties of the plant are compromised, then what’s the point?
Well, the point for some is to make as much money as they can—the typical quantity over quality conundrum. It’s an opportunistic endeavor engineered by big business, which has gotten into bed with physicians in an unconscionable money grab. Instead of “first, do no harm,” it’s “first, do no harm to the bottom line.”
Hypocrisy over Hippocrates.
I’m not suggesting that the pairing of big business with physicians is inherently wrong, but usually in such a partnership, profit and fealty to corporate masters are the oars that steer the boat. When making a buck (as opposed to providing relief to patients) is the impetus behind the decision-making, quality and sometimes even integrity, find themselves sleeping with the fishes.