Agro-ecology and PoultryPonics
Agro-ecology seeks to integrate different kinds of agriculture to allow farmers to use the wasted outputs from one kind of production as the inputs for other kinds of production. In partnership with Choice North Farms, PolarPonics used the wastage from a vertical hydroponics system and fed it to a flock of hens to reduce the need for feed. The hens produced manure which was processed in a ‘biodigester’ that was developed by Dr. Mark Lefsdrup and Peter Tikasz at McGill University. The biodigester turned the manure into an ‘in-house’ nutrient solution that was used to support hydroponics production and a ‘slurry’ that could be used to remediate local soils for outdoor production during the summer. As an added benefit, the BIOReactor produced a significant amount of heat which reduced the need for additional power during the long, cold winters.
The PoultryPonics Dome was established in Hay River, NWT during the summer of 2018 in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of agro-ecology as a solution for northern food insecurity by utilizing the following technologies and production methods:
- A 20’ diameter dome: A highly energy-efficient dome was used to house a hydroponics operation and will be placed on top of the first floor.
- Six highly-adaptable vertical hydroponics units: These had the potential to accommodate over 3000 plants and are suitable for indoor or outdoor production. When used indoors, they were capable or growing anything from micro-greens to various kinds of fruiting vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes.
- PolarEgg poultry production: Two hundred laying chickens were raised ‘free-run’ on a year-round basis on the first floor of the installation.
- The biodigester: This effectively linked the two methods of production by turning the chicken manure into hydroponic nutrient solution and fertilizer while also producing heat.
The productivity benchmarks needed by this research in order to ensure that a larger-scale operation could have an acceptable return on investment (ROI) were 230 kg of edible produce and over 400 dozen eggs per month. This needed to be achieved with a monthly input of less than 2160 kWhr of electricity, 2800 L of water and a significantly reduced demand for extra nutrient solution and chicken feed. In addition, ‘biocontrols’ were developed to reduce the risk of pests and pathogens for the hydroponics operation.
The net effect will be significantly reduced costs of production and an increasing independence from the need to be resupplied by southern distributors.
The path ahead
The PoultryPonics demonstration is presently on hold due to the pandemic. When the productivity objectives of this project have been met, the concept for the PoultryPonics Dome will be scaled-up to much larger facilities that will be capable of generating an acceptable return on investment (ROI) with a reduced risk for northern communities while meeting their need for a diverse supply of agricultural products.
Ultimately, the development of these facilities will have far reaching benefits for residents of northern communities:
- A viable, northern solution for food insecurity: Upscaled facilities will give northerners control of a significant portion of their food supply at a reduced cost.
- A successful demonstration of agro-ecological methods: The principles learned will be applicable to other means of agricultural production including dairy and meat chickens.
- Entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs: Northern residents and public organizations will have an additional opportunity to invest in themselves while building their communities.
- Educational opportunities: Every facility that is established will build capacity by offering northern residents the opportunity to learn new skills and develop their own knowledge which will provide northern-based food security solutions for the future.
This project is being support with contributions from PolarPonics and the following organizations: