West Virginia University graduate student Nichole Smith hopes her research on reusing nutrient-rich water from trout production can help farmers grow watercress and other plants year-round, adding to their profit margins.
Smith, of Grantsville, has been preparing her masters thesis on a sustainable, integrated agriculture system involving horticulture and fish farming under the direction of Dr. Todd West, assistant professor of horticulture in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences.
By-product nutrients from fish production are found in water used for production (effluent). If these nutrients arent removed, they can build up and potentially cause nutrient loading of streams.
Watercress production could take advantage of these nutrients for growth, Smith said. The main purpose of the research was to evaluate if watercress production is possible utilizing water from fish production, and to determine which cultural conditions are best suited to promote watercress production in this type of system.
If successful, one option is for watercress to serve as a value-added secondary crop for farmers to increase farm income, she said.
Watercress is a cool season, aquatic herb that grows best in cool, moving water. Brook trout also require a cool, moving water environment.
The research has shown that watercress production is possible utilizing brook trout effluent, Smith said. The conditions of the water make it possible to grow watercress year-round, which allows farmers to achieve a higher market value in the off-season. There are no added inputs because the irrigation and fertilizer already exist from the water used for trout production.
We want to prevent nutrient loading in the receiving stream,Smith said.We are building a foundation to show that different plants can grow in this type of system. Other plants that have also been grown include lettuce, dill and basil; however, cool season crops such as watercress and lettuce thrive better than others, she said.
Smith, who will graduate in May, conducted her research at the WVU Reymann Memorial Farm in Wardensville, in collaboration with the WVU Extension Service/Aquaculture and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The title of Smiths thesis isWatercress Production Utilizing Brook Trout Flow-through Aquaculture Effluent.
The project is a state-funded additive project, meaning that funding is added as the research progresses. All grants for the project are U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded.
Other WVU researchers involved were Dr.s Ken Semmens, Roger Viadero, Karen Buzby and graduate student Derek Dyer of Fort Seybert.
“This research project has the potential to significantly increase profits for aquaculture producers while providing a sustainable nutrient management system,West said.