Yukon-based company North Star Agriculture Inc. and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation are planning to build the Yukon’s first vertical aquaponics farm.
The CTFN has pledged to be a 51 per cent shareholder in the operation, which is proposed to be built and run in Carcross.
The farm is really more of a factory, said Sonny Gray, CEO of North Star Agriculture. It will consist of a 362-square-metre facility that would raise fish and plants side by side in a windowless, controlled environment in which the light, air, water and temperature are all precisely controlled to “maximize the potential of each plant,” he said.
The concept behind aquaponics is to basically recreate an environment found in nature, Gray said. Plants and fish are raised side by side in symbiosis. The plants clean and filter the water, while the fish produce waste which provides nutrients for the plants. The procedure uses no pesticides or chemicals, he said, and can produce food year round.
Aquaponics out-produces traditional hydroponics operations by 20 per cent and traditional greenhouses by 50 per cent, said Gray.
Gray said the farm will grow mostly leafy greens, like kale and butter lettuce, as well as herbs. The purpose is to make fresh produce available all year round, he said.
“We’re so heavily reliant on food that isn’t even grown in our country in the North,” he said.
He expects to be able to grow enough vegetables to not only meet the demand in the Yukon, he said, but to have a surplus to sell outside of the territory.
“I think we can grow enough to export to Alaska,” he said.
Gray said the farm will be raising tilapia, which is a tropical fish, because it is fast growing and thrives in water of 20C, which is what the plants need as well, he said.
“It’s similar to eating grayling,” he said.
Gray said the farm will be capable of raising 200 tonnes of tilapia a year, most of which will be shipped to markets in the south. There isn’t much of a market for fish in the Yukon, he said, because of the abundance of wild fish, such as trout and salmon.
“Really, we’d just be flooding a market that doesn’t need it,” he said.
The farm will create 20 to 30 jobs, Gray said, including both skilled jobs, such as plant managers, and unskilled jobs, such as packers. Gray said he expects to employ people from the CTFN.
North Star recently received a $75,000 grant from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor). The money went to creating a business plan and feasibility study, Gray said.
Gray said he did not know yet exactly how much it would cost to build the facility, but said it was in the “millions” of dollars.
North Star hopes to have produce on the shelves in the Yukon by the winter of 2018.
CTFN could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Contact Lori Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org