The Long Haul

Ver­ti­cal fish farm­ing could be the key to sav­ing our seafood, and Eric Ng is the first to do it.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

Things aren’t look­ing good for our oceans. Over­fish­ing is de­plet­ing once-abun­dant species and what­ever’s left (that’s edi­ble) may end up suf­fo­cat­ing due to fall­ing oxy­gen lev­els in the seas caused by global warm­ing.

For a so­lu­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing, Eric Ng, group CEO of Apollo Aqua­cul­ture Group (AAG), is look­ing heav­en­ward. His farm in Lim Chu Kang has been em­brac­ing ver­ti­cal farm­ing to max­imise pro­duc­tion and ef­fi­ciency in land­scarce Sin­ga­pore since 2012.

The three-storey farm houses six ponds – two on each level – with each 135 sq m pond be­ing able to hold 22,000 fish fry. This sys­tem al­lows AAG to farm 150kg to 250kg of fish per cu­bic me­tre of wa­ter, com­pared to the 25kg to 75kg that sea cage farm­ing can yield. AAG’s farm is fully au­to­mated, with ev­ery­thing from wa­ter con­di­tions and feed­ing be­ing con­trolled re­motely, thus re­duc­ing labour costs.

It’s a sim­ple idea in the­ory, but one that took im­mense con­vic­tion to turn into re­al­ity. AAG was started by Ng’s fa­ther to cul­ti­vate or­na­men­tal fish. Ng gave up the chance to con­tinue his stud­ies in Aus­tralia to help with the fam­ily busi­ness, but he and his fa­ther “were fight­ing all the time”, he re­calls.

Af­ter three years, he left to start his own con­struc­tion busi­ness. But when the mar­ket crashed, so did his com­pany. “I hung my head and went back to my dad, who was grin­ning smugly. But that ex­pe­ri­ence helped me re­late to his chal­lenges as a busi­ness owner, and he in turn let go a lit­tle more and gave me the free­dom to ex­plore dif­fer­ent ways to op­er­ate.”

One of those ways was au­to­ma­tion, which he ad­mits was in­spired by his own lazi­ness. “I had to be at the farm be­fore 7am, do­ing jobs like si­phon­ing wa­ter from tanks and fill­ing them up again – and we had 500 tanks,” he says. “Dur­ing my ex­per­i­ments with semi-au­to­ma­tion, I killed many fish and shrimp, but that’s where I gained the know-how. I re­alised that fish farm­ing is both an art and a sci­ence.”

The sci­ence part re­ceived a ma­jor boost when Ng shifted from or­na­men­tal fish to food fish af­ter his fa­ther passed away in 2009. He de­cided to farm fish on land, know­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of farm­ing them in sea cages. “Sea cage sys­tems are dif­fi­cult to con­trol be­cause ev­ery­thing is de­pen­dent on the weather, fish are vul­ner­a­ble to dis­eases and you have to man­age ev­ery­thing off­shore. Should any­thing hap­pen while you’re on land, you have to re­act very quickly and it’s very tax­ing on the mind,” he ex­plains.

By in­vest­ing in high-tech land-based farm­ing, AAG prom­ises its prod­ucts – mainly grouper, trout and shrimp – are safe to con­sume and trace­able. The next step was to in­crease out­put. “With my back­ground in con­struc­tion, I came up with ideas on how to build up­wards,” he says. He had to mort­gage his house to get started.

To­day, his “float­ing ponds” con­cept is about to ma­te­ri­alise in a mas­sive 38,400 sq m hub in Neo Tiew Cres­cent, built at an es­ti­mated cost of $72 mil­lion. The farm­ing block is due to be com­pleted be­fore next Oc­to­ber, with the of­fice and pro­cess­ing block the year af­ter. “By es­ca­lat­ing the model to eight tiers, we are able to re­duce our en­ergy costs from pro­duc­tion from 30 per cent to 3 per cent, which adds up to $3.5 mil­lion in sav­ings a year.”

The 45-year-old hopes more tra­di­tional farm­ers will adopt this model, since “float­ing ponds” can fit into any un­used ur­ban space, in­clud­ing parks, rooftops, com­mu­nity spa­ces and viaducts. “The older gen­er­a­tion is still farm­ing like they did 30 years ago, but they have ex­pe­ri­ence and soft skills. I hope to help the in­dus­try up­grade their hard­ware while main­tain­ing their ‘soft­ware’,” he says. “In­stead of a com­peti­tor, I hope the older gen­er­a­tion will come to see me as a col­lab­o­ra­tor, so we can all make the world a bet­ter place to live in.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.