Growing cotton intensively on floating rafts in deep water culture aquaponics (in troughs 2 or 3 feet deep) should be possible. This would mean that the cotton plants could be spaced and treated much like okra, which is already grown commercially in aquaponic systems quite successfully. Okra is a close relative of the cotton plant. Growing cotton should be much like growing okra. It does not mind having its roots constantly in flowing fish water. The upper parts of the plant are separated from the water by the polystyrene floating raft, and spacing between plants is much less than in soil agriculture.
The growth rate of the cotton is also accelerated so harvests could be staggered across a commercial aquaponic farm of several aquaponics systems to keep the supply of raw cotton coming in year-round. This is growing cotton intensively all year round. Since the rafts full of growing cotton plants lift out of the deep water culture troughs very easily, the growing cotton can be harvested by hand or mechanically very easily at waist height off the polystyrene rafts placed on trestles. There is no back-breaking bending involved. The polystyrene rafts could even be fed through some specially designed mechanical harvesting machine to be cleaned and re-used afterwards in the deep water culture troughs of the commercial aquaponic systems for the next sets of seedlings.
It should not be forgotten that cotton is not just a fibre crop. Organically grown cotton also provides cotton seed which can be processed into organic cotton seed oil for cooking. The seed cake could perhaps also be reused as fish feed. The fish that are harvested from the fish farm part of the aquaponic systems can be used to help feed the workers, or sold, and vegetables can be grown in the same deep water culture troughs alongside the cotton to help feed the community.
It could even be possible to make this growing cotton scheme part of an urban agriculture project, with the cotton spinning and weaving factories next to the cotton growing farms in the city where people live and buy the fabrics right out of the end of the process along with the food grown alongside the growing cotton in the deep water culture troughs full of fish waste water. All of this produce, the growing cotton and the growing vegetables, should be able to be certified organic, which adds market value.
Of course for this aquaponic systems growing cotton scheme to work, hundreds of aquaponics systems would have to be operated. However, if the results with okra are anything to go by, much more cotton could be grown per hectare using much less water and no artificial fertilizers or pesticides. Herbicides are unnecessary since there is no space for weeds in a polystyrene floating raft full of cotton plants.
As another bonus, in the kinds of tropical and semidesert climates where growing cotton is commercially viable, it should be possible to grow Malaysian giant prawns as cleaners of algae etc. under the floating rafts in the aquaponics systems, as another product for sale.
So here you have aquaponic systems grown cotton, vegetables, fish and giant prawns. A whole set of deep water culture aquaponics systems based industries is potentially installed, in a place where there were neither the skills nor the water available to do this using more conventional methods. The quality of the certified organic cotton should not be affected, given that the quality of other crops grown in aquaponics systems has proved to be premium. Food production in aquaponics systems is of a very high quality. This remains true even though crop growth rate has been accelerated by the quality of nutrition gained from the aquaponic fish water, in the deep water culture troughs. There is no good reason not to foresee very similar results to food production when growing cotton.
Deep water culture troughs, with at least two feet of water depth under the polystyrene floating rafts, are important in hot climates to keep the roots of the crops they support cool. The deep water helps to insulate the roots from the often dessicating heat outside. The floating rafts not only suspend the plants in the water while keeping the flowers and leaves dry, but also shade the roots and help with insulating the root development space in the deep water culture troughs.
The water flows from the solids removal part of the aquaponics systems to the deep water culture troughs, and then is pumped back cleaned of nitrates by the plants, to the fish to be re-used and recycled over and over again. Growing certified organic cotton alongside fish farming in this way should be relatively easy. It may prove even easier as a form of large scale cotton growing urban agriculture feeding fabric factories and their associated communities.
The idea that cotton growing communities are self sufficient also in food production is attractive and economically sound. The fact that properly managed, all this industry can be certified organic is also a plus. However, to have aquaponics systems certified organic, you have to ensure that the certification procedures meet international standards. Certified organic fish farming is a rare skill. Urban agriculture can only succeed with trained operatives who know their onions. Commercial aquaponic systems are not just add water technology.
The price of processed cotton is at a 150 year high. The price of certified organic cotton of good quality is even higher. Then there are also the advantages associated with organic food production, alongside growing cotton. With this good prospect for return on investment in intensive cotton growing in aquaponics systems, now is the time to try this idea out for real and in sufficient quantity to make an impact on growers everywhere who are spending money unnecessarily on expensive fertilizers and pesticides. None of this inorganic chemistry is necessary when growing crops and stimulating food production in aquaponics systems. So as well as getting more harvests of cotton that can be certified organic, you are also saving money on agrichemicals. This can be factored in to the real cost advantages of commercial aquaponic systems when shelling out for installing them in the first place.
To learn more about aquaponics and aquaponics system construction and management, I highly recommend reading the following expert books written by the world’s leading authorities on the subject: