Management programs increase the profitability of aquaculture

by Thomas Jensen
Graphical overview of farm.

Feed more efficiently, detect risks promptly, prevent fish losses

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 6 2022.

One of the advantages of aquaculture is that the environmental conditions during breeding can be controlled at all times and often influenced in a targeted way. This requires continuous measurements of all important parameters in order to be able to obtain a specific picture of the current situation. These are time-consuming routine jobs; however, they are increasingly being taken over by farm management technologies which offer many different options.

Regardless of what type of aquaculture system one operates, no producer can get around the need to monitor environmental conditions and water parameters. This is the only way that negative developments and exceeding standard values can be promptly detected for important parameters, preventing imminent risks to animal stocks. But measurements cost time and employee capacity, all the more so as the measurement data must also be precisely recorded and analysed in order to detect negatively developing trends and introduce required actions. Correct analyses also influence the economic efficiency of the company, because they contribute to more effective feeding, aligning fish stocks in a more targeted way towards what is feasible and preventing animal losses. Computers have long replaced notebooks and other handwritten drawings that were used in the past. However, it is now time to also say goodbye to the familiar spreadsheet calculation programs, as management systems that are precise, user-friendly and easy to operate now exist. They offer a variety of functions that meet the expectations of even the most demanding users and also contribute to reducing production costs, improving efficiency and increasing profitability. Access to data and analytics has now even gone mobile. Thanks to the cloud and modern digital communications possibilities, information can be retrieved not just in the office, but at home and when travelling, via the Internet on mobile or tablet devices.

Management systems also offer direct access to all information required to optimise operational processes and make necessary management decisions anywhere and at any time. Or, as one provider of such programs writes on their website, to understand what is actually happening in production as it is happening and to be able to deal with it proactively. The prerequisite for this is data recording in real time, which allows insights into all processes and operations connected with what happens at a fish farm. For example, the current feed dosages per pond or pool, the growth and mortality in fish stocks or relevant water quality parameters. Even harvest quantities, momentary sales prices and costs incurred in purchasing can be taken into consideration. The option of statistically evaluating this wealth of detailed data in an instant and then representing it graphically is particularly convenient. All of this provides unique transparency and control over all variable influencing parameters that affect the production process. The production data from the aquaculture operation is, as it were, directly transformed into valuable knowledge. Never before has it been so easy to optimise operational processes, reduce costs and increase profitability. Given these advantages, it is not surprising that more and more aquaculture producers worldwide are turning to digital management platforms to improve their fish cultivation.

Demand for ­management systems is growing rapidly

Many analysts predict that the market for farm management software in Europe will gain further momentum due to the growing interest in and improvements to these technologies. For the forecast period from 2021 to 2027 they predict a compound annual growth rate (CAGR, a type of key figure used in corporate analyses), of 11.2% Increasing operation sizes and staff shortages are the most important factors driving this development. There is also the trend towards intensification of fish production, which is almost always accompanied by high stocking densities. This does often increase operation yields, but there is also the risk that partial or total animal losses may occur in the event of a technical fault or as a consequence of unfavourable environmental conditions, as we have often experienced in recent years due to climate change. One can protect oneself from some unpleasant surprises such as power cuts using emergency generators, but other risks, such as leaking oxygen tubes, are sometimes not detected in time. Although the input system is working properly, the oxygen content in the water sinks to dangerously low concentrations as a result, which in extreme cases can lead to the total loss of the fish stock. Management systems that not only monitor the error-free functioning of all technical devices, but also the oxygen values in the water can therefore make the difference between making a profit or a loss.

Farm management software is available both as a local web-based solution and also as a cloud-based solution (PaaS – Platform as a Service, SaaS – Software as a Service), but the cloud-based programs already have a larger market share and will probably grow fastest in future. Demand is particularly high in North America, because faith in digital solutions to problems is generally very high there. There are also many promising developments in the Asian region, as aquaculture is currently in a period of upheaval there in which many operations are increasingly investing in the latest technologies. What users can currently expect from powerful farm management software is efficient measuring and monitoring functions as well as reporting and analytics tools for the following areas of management:
• Monitoring and analysis of water quality and important environmental parameters, improved risk management
• Control and documentation of stock development (collection of daily data on fish stocks, losses, growth, treatments, harvest quantities etc.).
• Feed management: Monitoring of inventories, feed quantities administered daily according to feed type and pellet sizes, prediction for probable consumption level
• Calculation of purchase costs (COGS, cost of goods sold): Option to track costs and inputs in detail and display them for the respective fish production. Improved planning, reduction in input and labour costs
• Simple and precise traceability of individual production batches, strict compliance with statutory provisions.

Automated data ­assessment makes decision-making easier


Particularly powerful management software is also capable of ‘data mining’. This is the systematic application of statistical methods to large datasets with the goal of detecting existing interconnections and trends. This would otherwise be extraordinarily difficult for unusually large quantities of data, as are generated in aquaculture systems, where some parameters are measured frequently at intervals of a minute and then stored. The processing and assessment of such large datasets requires computer-supported mathematical statistical methods with which certain patterns can be detected and recommendations for action can be derived. The automatic and structured process of data mining provides models for predictions, estimates and other inferences that are almost indispensable for making well-founded strategic business decisions. Decision-makers not only understand what has happened but can also see what will probably happen next. More targeted countermeasures and preventive measures can then be introduced on this basis.

For cloud-based SaaS management solutions, the potential user does not even need to have their own server on their farm. If there is a reliable network of measuring sensors already present that continuously supplies data from the pools and ponds, they only need a browser and an Internet connection and they are ready to go. However, because the infrastructures for data collection often differ between operations, management programs often have a modular structure that can be adjusted to the relevant situation without any problems. Using the programs is not complicated and is usually intuitive. Almost all cloud-based software solutions have been tried and tested and they are largely mature systems. They have already become almost indispensable as a ­reliable tool for the recording, storage and evaluation of production-relevant data, especially for larger operations. Interest in intelligent software solutions is growing steadily, which can also be seen from sinking procurement and maintenance costs.

Large selection of ­software solutions for every requirement

However, those looking for these helpful programs encounter the problem of having to choose between the numerous providers. The selection is huge, because the range of farm management software offered has also increased very significantly with the growing demand. Agrivi, Oxyguard, Trimble, BouMatic, Iteris, DeLaval (Tetra Laval), Deere & Company, AG Leader Technology, AgJunction, Raven Industries, SST Development Group (LexisNexis Risk Solutions Group), GEA Group, Farmers Edge or Linn Gerätebau are just a few of the many providers that are all competing for customers for their products.

Despite small differences in their operation and in the data evaluation, almost all management solutions promise basically the same things. They enable the user to track their production processes in real time, document many processes through specific measurement data and immediately notify the user if something is going wrong and the specified standard values have been exceeded. And this is not only when using the computer, but practically anywhere regardless of location, on holiday, when travelling, day and night. The fish farmers remain, as it were, permanently in contact with their aquaculture operation via mobile communications devices and corresponding apps. Because the abundance of the data collected can sometimes be overwhelming, the value of a software solution can primarily be measured by how quickly and reliably the data is evaluated and how comprehensibly it is visualised. This is because the real value of the management program is that it can make positive and negative developments easier to detect. Even experienced fish cultivators often find it difficult without this help to filter out general trends from the abundance of measurement data and to promptly detect imminent urgent situations. Particularly as they cannot make anywhere near so many measurements at such frequency. Environmental data such as wind speed and direction, temperatures, air pressure, solar/UV radiation and rainfall or water quality parameters such as oxygen content, temperature and pH value, salt content (conductivity), ORP (redox potential) and turbidity often only become production-relevant when they exceed the tolerance limits for the fish stock.

The standard software platforms are fully sufficient for many operations if they meet their basic requirements. However, custom software solutions that are tailored to the specific needs of the user are better. A good software provider should therefore also offer this option to its customers. The added cost for a custom program can be well worth it for the user because it not only improves production efficiency but also, generally speaking, it will appropriately meet the documentation requirements for a traceable product history. Queries with regard to compliance with production standards, such as feed types, sorting, drug treatments or other events over the duration of the cultivation process can be quickly answered with this ­support.

In the simplest case, aquaculture operations turn to feed management software. These programs make it possible to distribute precise doses of feed throughout the day with suitable feeding machines. They are individually configured for each pond and individual fish species and adjusted to their biomass and the water temperature (the software also takes into account biomass growth based on FCR tables). But powerful management programs for aquaculture can do much more than that. They are called AquaTracker, Cobalia, AquaManager, NAVFarm, Aquam or Fishward and they promise to optimise the entire production process across all phases of fish production, reduce costs and detect problems as soon as they occur. In short, they make management of daily operational processes easier and increase the productivity of the farm and therefore its profitability.

Manfred Klinkhardt

You may also like