Property Selection And Approval Process For Organic Aquaponic Farms:
Why are you telling us this? Can’t we just buy a farm and get going? NO, DON’T DO IT! Here’s why:
If you just buy or lease any old farm, it may be IMPOSSIBLE to get it organically certified. Only you’ve already spent your money. Now you have a farm that can only earn you half as much, but will forever have the same expenses as one that produces higher-value organic vegetables. You need to know what you’re doing when you go shopping for your farm, or you’re liable to step in some conventionally-farmed waste products and waste your money and time.
(Below) USDA Organically Certified produce is usually worth twice as much at the wholesale level, and always at least 50% more. For growing the same vegetable. Now isn’t THAT a no-brainer?
We’re going on the following assumptions here:
1. You are investing what is a serious amount of money to you, and need a commercial aquaponics project that is finished and produces positive cash flow at that scale.
2. You may want to expand the project in the future to some as yet unknown size.
3. You agree that building your project in increments, with each increment beginning to generate cash flow within a reasonable time of finishing its construction, is a good idea.
4. You want a project that can be run by someone else, if possible: someone who already knows aquaponic farm operation, so it doesn’t take all of your time, or require you to learn the technology or handle all the day-to-day operations yourself.
To accomplish these goals, you need a property that meets as many of the following criteria as possible:
A. 30-60 miles distance by refrigerated truck from a large population center (500,000 plus pop. would be nice, 150,000 a minimum).
B. A minimum of 1 acre of usable and reasonably level space, not including buildings, and preferably gravel or dirt; although a reasonably flat asphalt parking lot will work. You do not need fertile soil or what’s normally considered “farmland”!
C. A standard 200 amp, single phase 240 volt electrical service either already on the property or available within reason (Ex: 20 poles away from the main transmission line at $3,000 per pole is not what I call reasonable). This is for aquaponics, processing, refrigeration, and building uses. If you plan on using artificial lighting to any great extent, you may need up to a 3-phase 750 kva service. This would be really expensive!
D. A city or county potable water service on the property or available. If the city or county allows you to use well water for the water in a “commercial kitchen”, that would also be okay. Just make sure of this, otherwise you may not be able to do value-added processing because your local Health Department doesn’t allow you to use your non-potable water for this purpose.
E. Pluses to keep an eye out for: existing greenhouses (of course!); additional acreage, even if just dirt, for you can do other agricultural projects there; existing warehouse or other steel structure with reasonably high ceiling inside (12 foot min); walkin refrigerator or freezer; office(s); bathroom(s); other usable buildings or facilities that will fit in with your proposed operation. DON’T spend more money for these things unless they’re PERFECT for what you plan; the additional outlay will have to be paid for somehow, and unless they save you money building these things, it’s not a good idea to pay for more than what you need.
F. Minuses to keep a REAL eye out for: any kind of fuel or chemical tanks or indications that there were fuel or chemical tanks on the property, big brown areas in the grass, obvious chemical or oil spills on the ground surface (either inside or outside buildings). Pulp mills, explosives factories, etc, nearby may be deal-breakers for the certification agencies. Make sure you get it in writing from your certification agency before signing escrow!
If USDA Organic Certification is a necessary part of your business plan, you must be aware that the certification agency can impose up to a 250-foot “buffer zone” into your property from any and all neighboring properties it determines are under non-organic regimens. This usually means from neighboring farms that might be spraying chemical fertilizers or pesticides. However, we have no idea what they would do if you are directly downwind from a pulp mill or something of the like; in this case, they may not even consider certifying you. You get the idea; watch for auto painting shops and chemical factories upwind or nearby, etc.
If you have any questions about your proposed “farm”, it’s a good idea to begin the certification process with the certifying agency (this usually just means paying them your application fee), then after getting a preliminary determination from them, a good idea is to pay to get them out to the property and give you a determination in writing whether or not they can certify it, before signing the lease or buying the property. This will only cost $1,500 or so in most parts of the US, which is way cheaper than trying to get rid of an uncertifiable property after you’ve purchased it. Questions?