Whether you’re planning to start tilapia fish farming on a modest, small scale or at a commercial scale, you will need help. The aquaculture industry is both capital and skills intensive. It is a farming activity that requires day-and-night attention, so you’ll need as much help as you can get before even thinking of jumping in to get your hands dirty, or in this case, wet.
As a practicing fish farmer with more than 30 years’ practical experience, David Fincham, founder of the Gauteng-based David Fincham Aquaculture, believes the small-scale farmer is vital to the food security of any economy. He offers ten tips to get aspiring fish farmers off the ground and in the water.
1. Jump in the water already
First up, what are you waiting for? Just start. It really doesn’t matter where or at what scale you begin. Do you research by talking to the industry role players. Ask a lot of questions and get the answers you need.
Write down your business plan. Structure the processes and check them off against your list. Everything that needs to be done for a project, starts with a plan, design, and prototypes. You may do this on your own or as part of a team.
2. Ask for help and draft a killer pitch
If you are going to apply for funding, get all the information, forms, and criteria information beforehand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is probably your one and only chance to secure funding.
A successful pitch to the right audience can raise the money you need and sometimes more, whereas a poor pitch will leave you deflated and demotivated. Don’t be fooled. There’s no such thing as easy or free money.
3. Choose method of farming
Determine where the farm will be and consider all the resources available. Once you have locked in a location, decide what type of farm it will be between pond and cage farming.
However, cage farming is almost out of the question for any small- or large-scale operation.
With the climate for most parts of South Africa, and most times of the year, tilapia, especially, does not grow well. This is limited to closed-system fish farming with added heating, in most cases.
4. Now for the money talk
What are the final design and cost implications? You also need to have a building plan in place. Will you build the structures in phases or in one go? The fish farming operations are made is easier by having the right plan, design, build and staff in place. Also decide whether your farm will be vertically integrated (egg to plate) or will it only operate as a production entity?
5. Have the answers ready
Pitch these questions to yourself to be addressed within the scope of the budget or finance plan.
- Who are you as a company? Do you consider yourself a farming enterprise, business, or co-operative? Also think about your company’s vision and mission.
- What does your company want to establish in terms of infrastructure, business operations and market(s)? What will the company achieve by doing A, B, C, D etc. Also think about what you will produce, at what scale and what your income projections for these operations are?
- How much finance/funding is required to buy land, build infrastructure, and cover overall operating costs.
- What’s does your marketing plan look like and how much will you spend on social media, promotions, events, special offers etc. Also, what are your sales projections and is your pricing consumer friendly?
- What is the management and salary structure of the business and how many people will be employed? Will you provide training and skills development and at what costs?
- What do you calculate will expenses be for: Stock, fingerlings, breeding stock, feed, electricity, water, salaries, administration, logistics, transportation, company and tax registrations, legal costs and accounting costs (if outsourced)?
- What are your projections for the company’s profits, cash flow, income, and expenditure? How do you see the company growing in the future?
6. A trustworthy team always works better
The selection of your team is very important. The person responsible for the day- to-day running of the farming operations should be selected based on dedication to duty, passion for fish farming.
They should have the relevant knowledge and skills for farming fish and be able to handle difficult situations that may arise.
7. Water quality, temperature and feed
The important aspects of the farming environment for tilapia, and most farmed fish, are water quality, temperature, and quality feed.
Temperatures should be close 28 degrees Celsius and be as constant as possible. This is achieved by a greenhouse which provides much free energy, a supplementary heat source, solar, heat pumps and other sources. This is the most critical of all the production factors to be managed.
The right feed, feeding regime, feeding management, quantities fed and feeding times are essential. You also need to monitor the fish’s response to feed.
Water quality is dependent on a wide range of factors such as environment, temperature, light, algae, oxygen, waste solids and dissolved wastes. These should all be considered when starting your fish farm.
Also, take note of genetic quality and quality of fingerlings, species, and health. Determine stocking densities, what weigh of fish in what volume of water. How many fish (at what size) in how many liters of water?
8. Aquaculture is skills intensive
Fish farming requires skill and if you don’t have the skill inhouse you will need to acquire or subcontract them. Take careful consideration of business skills, farm skills, building, plumbing, electrical, people, management, administration, marketing and all areas of the fish farming operations.
9. The comprehensive marketing plan
You only have a business if you can sell your products. The marketing plan is critical to the viability of your farm, how much fish can you deliver, when can you deliver, in what your final product will be.
Is it whole fresh, or will it be gutted, cleaned, and scaled? Perhaps you want to supply ready meals such as fish cakes, fish fingers, smoked fish etc. Most importantly, what are your pricing and when do you expect payment.
10. You’re almost ready to farm fish
Now that you have the basic framework for the farming operation you are a fish farmer. Well, almost!
What you are embarking on, is a process that takes time and there are no shortcuts or quick rich money schemes, so be patient. This is farming, and fish farming is a relatively new type of farming (less than 30 years old).