Aqua Archer Farms is a small aquaponics farm in Missouri Valley. While working for UPS, owner Chris Archer delivered an aquaponics system and was intrigued. After learning more about it, he decided to give it a try.
In 2018, Chris visited an aquaponics farm in Colorado, and the Nelson Pade facilities in Wisconsin. He took a 3-day mastery class with Nelson Pade, who is one of the premier companies in the aquaponics business. The farm consists of a series of tanks and plant beds where greens are grown on water instead of soil.
Aqua Archer Farms have a “Family Plus System” consisting of four 100-gallon tanks with fish, and two 55-gallon clarifying tanks. Ammonia comes from fish urine, but the fish solid waste does not come anywhere near the food production. The ammonia that is produced by the fish is broken down organically by bacteria, similar to how it does in soil, producing nitrate that is beneficial to the plants. From the fish tanks, water goes into a degassing tank. Water is then put into beds where greens are floating on raft beds. Their roots go directly into the water.
They use tilapia, which are considered a highly invasive species by Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The farm is required to have a DNR permit, an annual aquaculture permit, and the facilities are inspected by DNR to ensure they are following all environmental regulations. Although the fish are edible, selling them would require another expensive permit so they do not sell the fish.
The fish are all males, which reduces the chance of unchecked population growth. They arrive as 1-5 gram fingerlings.
As they grow, the size of the food pellets they eat also grows. Nelson Pade has their own meal formula, which does not include any bloodmeal. The fish are fed 3-5 times per day depending on their size. Because tilapia like to jump and can easily jump out of the tanks, the tanks are covered with nets. The fish live about 7 months. A general rule is to have 1 pound of fish per 2-3 gallons of water.
A ¼ horsepower pump is all that’s needed to recirculate water through the system, in addition to using gravity as much as possible. It is an enclosed loop system which conserves water and improves efficiency.
The plants take 30 to 55 days to grow to a harvestable size. They require temperatures between 65-85 degree F to thrive. Fans are needed to help circulate air. Grow lights are used in the greenhouse to help increase the light spectrum for the plants’ growth cycles, and generate small amount of heat.
A “purge tank” system is used when they are harvesting the fish at the grow out stage of 1.5-2 pounds. They are taken from the 100 gallon tank once at weight and are not fed, to clean out their system. Salt is added as a calming agent and to help clean out the fish from any remaining waste, to produce a cleaner meat and taste when harvested.
They add DTPA Iron, magnesium and calcium to the water. The iron is not readily available for the plants in this form of iron so they add the calcium and magnesium for the iron to attach to so the plants can uptake the nutrients.
They have several biosecurity measures in place to reduce the risk of contamination and pests.
They do weekly chemical testing of the water to make sure pH, nitrite, dissolved oxygen, and other qualities are adequate. Tanks are cleaned monthly (or as needed) depending on the fish stocking density. The Archers do not use any pesticides or other chemicals.
Archer Aqua farms started growing produce about a year ago. To harvest the greens, they lift up the floating beds and snip off the roots.
They are currently selling 9 types of greens, and plan to add berries and tomatoes in the future. Customers often comment on the great flavor of their greens compared to store-bought counterparts.
They are planning to start producing Microgreens in the next month or so, using a ZipGrow Microgreens Station. The Archers are currently participating in Upstart University, where they’re learning more tools and tips of the trade.
You can find Archer Aqua Farm’s greens at the Blair Farmers Market in the summer, and at S&S Pumping in Blair in the off-season of the farmers market on Saturday mornings.
One Farm Market in Logan also regularly sells them. They have at times sold to the Pink Poodle in Crescent. They will have anywhere from 70-90 heads of greens available each week. You can also contact them through their Facebook page to place an order. For a small fee, you can get a tour of their facilities.