Article by Dominic Welling, IntraFish
Canadian start-up Stewart Farms is taking the concept of aquaponics farming to a new level, by using tilapia to cultivate a different kind of leafy greens – cannabis, “the most valuable fruiting crop in the world.”.Ultimately the company’s aim is to “change the landscape of sustainable farming in medicine, food crops, and fish,” Tanner Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Stewart Farms, told IntraFish..At its core it is an agriculture technology company focused on the three pillars of indoor, vertical, and automated farming, “married with state-of-the-art commercial scale land-based aquaculture,” he said..The company is also a pioneer in cannabis genetics which it considers a “new frontier” and which, comparable with fish genetics, “is exploding and still fairly new.”.Since getting its Health Canada Cannabis License on April 13 this year, Stewart Farms has built up its science and cultivation team, launched a line of consumer packaged goods (CPG) products to market, created new strategic partnerships, and begun cultivating the next wave of cannabis genetics..It has also brought a new species of commercial fish into the New Brunswick economic landscape – black Nile tilapia.“We are dedicated to advancing aquaponics as a whole genre globally,” Stewart said.
‘The Jedi of tilapia genetics’The company operates out of a 100,000 square foot facility in New Brunswick, but for the early stages is only using 10 percent of this space..It moved the first plants into the facility on April 20, 2020 – a symbolic date of sorts — with the first generation of fingerlings arriving a few months earlier..Stewart Farms is sourcing its black Nile tilapia from Gary Chapman and the company Americulture based in New Mexico.“With help from Gary Chapman, who is basically the Jedi of tilapia genetics, we are farming pedigree tilapia,” said Stewart. “The broodstock originated in Lake Nasser in Egypt 27 years ago and is now on the eighth generation.”.The tilapia the company uses are disease-free, show good growth rates and improved feed conversion rates..When harvested, the tilapia from the cannabis farm will go into live Asian markets, specifically those in Boston and New York, Stewart said..Phase one of the project will involve just 1,000 fish or 1 metric ton. As of phase two next year, this number will be more like 17 metric tons “and this will be enough to penetrate the Boston and New York markets”..Phase three – which the company plans to reach by around 2023/24 — will produce 23,000 market-ready fish per month or 200 metric tons per year..The fish will undergo a 10-month growth cycle, and will be organically certified and branded when they hit the market.
The age old feed compromise: cost vs sustainabilityThe company only uses custom organic feeds.Skretting supplied the first batch but the company sources from other companies too. “We just look for the best formulated organic feeds,” said Stewart..Tilapia is an omnivore but it leans closer to a diet which is more vegetarian based, according to Stewart. “They prefer 60 percent veggie fish feed with a 40 percent protein profile,” said Stewart.