Aquaculture, the production of aquatic animals and plants for human consumption, is one of the fastest growing sectors of animal-based agriculture (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010). A decline in wild fisheries coupled with a strong consumer-driven demand for aquaculture products has resulted in the adoption of intensive fish production systems. While aquaculture farms have become more productive, they are proactively looking for methods to mitigate environmental impacts. Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) have incorporated modern technology to manage nutrients and solid waste in a controlled environment allowing the producer to maximize production per unit area and reuse limited freshwater resources through mechanical removal of solids and biofiltration of dissolved wastes. These systems are currently being used to produce popular food species like nile tilapia [Oreochromis niloticus (Azim and Little, 2008)] and Pacific white shrimp [Litopenaeus vannemei (Ray et al., 2010)]. To ensure system sustainability, a RAS discharges dissolved wastes and concentrated organic matter daily. Even though the point of discharge is well defined, the concentrated organic matter and inorganic nutrients are still a liability for the producer (Ebeling et al., 2005). Therefore, identifying management strategies to minimize nutrient loss is important to intensive aquaculture production facilities and the adjacent environment.
While intensive RAS facilities are investigating methods to use discharged wastes, the horticulture industry is searching for alternative soilless substrates for ornamental plant propagation and production. Sphagnum peatmoss (PM) remains extremely important to the U.S. greenhouse industry and is used as a primary component for greenhouse plants because of its superior physical and chemical properties (Fain et al., 2008). However, the demand for PM has increased and transportation costs have escalated from heightened costs of petroleum. In an effort to reduce dependence on PM, the horticulture industry has used alternative soilless mixes for complete replacement (Abad et al., 2002; Arenas et al., 2002; Chavez et al., 2008) or mixed their own substrate with locally available and cost-effective amendments for partial replacement of PM substrates (Arenas et al., 2002; Garcia-Gomez et al., 2002; Guérin et al., 2001).
Few experiments exploit the potential of solid matter in AE as a substrate amendment for container plants. Boyd and Tucker (1998) report only 25% to 30% of the nitrogen applied to an aquaculture production system is harvested with the target species. Uneaten feed or fish excretion of dissolved wastes and fecal matter account for the unused nutrients. Thus, improved nutrient efficiency through integrated agricultural systems is high. Studies have analyzed fish effluent and conclude the nitrogen content and phosphorus levels would make it a good plant nutrient source. Nair (2006) discovered vermicomposted AE used as a potting medium was beneficial to container-grown plants in a greenhouse and would be an effective nutrient source for plants. In addition, Danaher et al. (2011) found tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) seedlings responded positively to different ratios of composted AE as the sole source of nutrients. Palada et al. (1999) found AE performed as well as other organic or inorganic commercial fertilizers for field production of bell peppers (Capsicum annuum). Therefore, separating the liquid component from the solid component through dewatering discharged AE and discovering a use for the solids may benefit the horticulture industry as a substrate amendment for container-grown plants.
Integrated production systems are an important production strategy from an environmental perspective because the nutrient output from one production system can provide essential nutrient inputs for another and thus minimizing the environmental impact through on-site recovery and recycling of unused nutrients. The ability to get a double crop (fish + plants) from the same nutrient source will become increasingly important in areas where waste management will be strictly regulated. The aforementioned studies suggest the original effluent stream from RAS should not be thought as an environmental problem, but should be collected and treated as an on-farm resource for horticulture production techniques.
The main objective of this study was to evaluate ‘Celebrity’ petunia growth in response to partial replacement of a commercially available container mix substituted with different amounts (0%, 5%, 10%, 25%, and 50%) of dewatered AE and watered with either municipal water or a water-soluble, inorganic fertilizer.
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