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Aquaponics Innovation Center will boost domestic aquaculture

With support from a $677,500 state economic development incentive grant, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has built the Aquaponics Innovation Center to train workers and enhance economic development.
The center is located in Montello at Nelson and Pade, Inc., UW-Stevens Point’s partner in developing an aquaponics training program. It is housed in a portion of Nelson and Pade’s new 13,500-square foot, controlled-environment greenhouse in Marquette County.
The AIC will provide education and resources for economic and workforce development. New business innovation and ways to overcome obstacles for this rapidly growing food production industry will be explored.
“It will serve as an economic incubator for learning, a catalyst for economic growth and a location for new business and commercializing discoveries,” said biology professor Chris Hartleb, who leads the university’s aquaculture program. “The industry lacks the academic training needed to run these systems and to advance the industry for large-scale commercial production.”
Aquaponics is a branch of aquaculture, integrating fish and plant agriculture in a single, seamless system. Aquaculture, or fish farming, is the fastest growing sector of food production in the country, increasing at an annual rate of 15 percent in the last 20 years. Eighty-six percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported. The seafood trade deficit exceeds $10 billion annually, the largest trade deficit of all U.S. agriculture products.
UW-Stevens Point has partnered with Nelson and Pade, a global leader in aquaponic system design, construction and training, for several years. Hartleb developed an aquaponics course with company founders Rebecca Nelson and John Pade.
UW-Stevens Point continues to be the only four-year accredited university in the U.S. to offer a semester-long aquaponics class, and in the fall offered the nation’s first professional certificate program in aquaponics. Students learn how to grow fresh fish and plants in an economically sustainable, highly productive food system.
“The Aquaponics Innovation Center is a continuation of our partnership that will enhance the industry and result in expanding use of this sustainable technology, creating jobs and increasing the availability of fresh, local food in Wisconsin and around the world,” Nelson said.
Wisconsin is poised to be a national leader in aquaponic economic development, education and innovation, said Chris Cirmo, dean of UW-Stevens Point’s College of Letters and Science. “With the public/private partnership we are creating, the university is tapping into the expertise of a very successful business venture partner for our students, while providing resources and educational forums for the advancement of truly sustainable agriculture.”
Wisconsin has 2,300 registered fish farms, which generate more than $14 million in sales annually and support an estimated 441 jobs. The growth of Wisconsin’s aquaculture industry lags behind that of the nation, Hartleb said. Incorporating aquaponics in the existing aquaculture industry would provide an additional revenue source.
Many fish farmers say they need assistance in economic programs, technical training and technologically advanced production knowledge, Hartleb wrote in the economic development incentive grant application.
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