With support from a $677,500 state economic development incentive grant, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is building an aquaponic innovation center to train workers and enhance economic development.
The center will at Nelson and Pade, Inc., Montello, UW-Stevens Point’s partner in developing an aquaponics training program. It will be housed in a portion of a new 13,500-square-foot, controlled-environment greenhouse Nelson and Pade is building in Marquette County to expand classroom space and demonstrate its commercial aquaponic systems.
The aquaponic innovation center 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.
The center is expected to be completed in late September. A variety of courses and workshops will be at the innovation center, beginning in fall. Faculty, students and industry representatives will conduct research and demonstrations there as well.
“It will serve as an economic incubator for learning, a catalyst for economic growth and a location for new business and commercializing discoveries,” said Christopher Hartleb, biology professor at UW-Stevens Point. “The industry lacks the academic training needed to run these systems and to advance the industry for large-scale commercial production.”
Hartleb developed an aquaponics course with Rebecca Nelson and John Pade, founders of Nelson and Pade, Inc. UW-Stevens Point continues to be the only four-year accredited university in the United States to offer a semester-long aquaponics class. Students learn how to grow fresh fish together with plants in an economically sustainable, highly productive food system.
UW-Stevens Point has partnered with Nelson and Pade, Inc., a global leader in aquaponic system design, construction and training, for several years. “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.
UW-Stevens Point will offer the nation’s first professional certificate program in aquaponics this fall.
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.”
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 past 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, according to the U.S. Department of 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.
About half of the state grant will go toward the Aquaponics Innovation Center. The remainder funds an aquaculture business incubator, a collaboration between UW-Stevens Point, its Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility in Bayfield and UW-Extension.
The aquaculture business incubator is a virtual center where those in or entering the industry can work with UW-Stevens Point faculty, Extension specialists and other professionals online or at Wisconsin facilities to address issues that limit industry growth and explore modern advances through technology transfer. The aquaculture business incubator began in fall 2013. For more, visit http://aquaculture.uwsp.edu
UW-Stevens Point received nearly $5 million of the $22.5 million awarded through the UW Incentive Grant program, which redirected UW System funds to support increased economic growth and a stronger Wisconsin workforce. Two other UW-Stevens Point projects support innovation in specialty papers, packaging and converting, and commercialization of biorefinery technology.