Knudson: Shining light on Aquaponics

March 22, 2018

Few industries have remained completely static through the years. More productive operations, stricter regulations and an increased reliance on technology have ways of changing things.

As industries change, the faculty tasked with educating students on their related programs have to keep up. Keith Knudson, Dakota College at Bottineau’s Horticulture Department Head and Instructor, is a prime example of one of those faculty.

Knudson has been working at DCB since 2011, when he started as a farm business management and sustainable vegetable production instructor. Three years later, his focus shifted to Aquaponics, developing a program at the two-year campus that provides a wide range of active learning experiences and selection of lectures – a good mix for those students who will end up going into the hands-on field. Two years later, students are able to achieve at different levels: with both a certificate and Associate of Applied Science degree available.

According to Knudson, the Aquaponics Program provides an overview of the field and its history. Included in the program are five different plant growth subsystems, fish and plant species, fish and plant health, and environment control methods. Aquaponics itself, as defined by Knudson, is the combination of growing aquatic life (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a system that requires no soil.

The reason for bringing aquaponics to DCB? Basically, because the agricultural practice is done completely in controlled environments, it can be done anywhere in the world. Due to production levels that have the possibility of exceeding 10 times that of current land production, it was a no-brainer for Knudson to get the program going here – especially since he had some experience with it.

The practicality of aquaponics and need for controllable, sustained agricultural operations also makes it useful for retooling otherwise unused facilities. Knudson noted that agriculture businesses are transforming older warehouses into aquaponics operations to help feed high density populations in other parts of world.

“DCB is one of only a handful of colleges and universities in the world that has an aquaponics program,” he said. “DCB’s program is unique in that it applies research to cold climate conditions. The program develops practices based on temperature and natural sunlight conditions in northern climates.”

Knudson said as an instructor in career technical education, it gave him great enjoyment to watch students apply their newfound knowledge.

“Our students are given the opportunity to demonstrate those abilities and skills in our practicums offered on-campus,” he said. “It makes them better prepared for their future and that is very important to me.”

Outside of the classroom, Knudson has a farm where he maintains an aquaponics program. Fish from his operation are stocked in private ponds and lakes throughout the state. He is a founding member of the Turtle Mountain Kiwanis that began in 2011, serving children in Bottineau and the surrounding area. Knudson is the president of FARRMS, a nonprofit organization that enhances the sustainability of farms and ranches in rural and urban North Dakota. He grew up on a diversified farm near Bottineau, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Extension and Agricultural Education with emphasis on plant science and horticulture from North Dakota State University.

His own aquaculture project began in 2000 with walleye, rainbow trout, blue gills, and perch. Approximately 10 percent – or 100 gallons – of the water was replaced daily with this aquaculture project. A couple years later, the aquaculture project transformed to an aquaponics project, reducing both water and energy usage that also lowered its overall cost.