While Cayman’s natural barriers may inhibit its agricultural potential, a Canadian farming operation is betting on transforming the islands into a potential aquaponics site.
Alberta-based NutraPonics is evaluating plans to set up a 6,000-square-meter (64,580-square-foot) growing bed in Grand Cayman that director Tim Goltz anticipates will satisfy 80 percent of the local leafy greens market.
“We can blow the top off it and really surprise people. We can make Cayman a global leader,” Mr. Goltz said.
“Indoor vertical farming in and of itself is probably one of the hottest investment spaces in the world right now,” Mr. Goltz said.
The company’s aquaponics systems operate in a fully enclosed, high-density growing environment. Tilapia kept in tanks produce byproducts that are then filtered to create nitrate-rich water. These nutrients are filtered to the vertical growing area, where plants sit under LED lighting.
The enclosed nature of the growing method eliminates the need for fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals.
The setup aims to minimize operating costs and maximize food production. Mr. Goltz estimates a 6,000-square-meter growing bed would produce enough leafy greens to feed 60,000 people.
He noted that shoppers in Cayman depend on high-cost imports routed from farms in North and Central America. While Cayman’s grocers and restaurants already receive a limited supply of local produce, including some grown using hydroponics, Mr. Goltz hopes NutraPonics will be able to supplement supply and offer an alternative to imports.
The perishable leafy greens are particularly sensitive to long journeys, which creates an extra headache for supermarkets, Mr. Goltz said. Temperature fluctuations, delays on the tarmac and other disruptions can all compromise shelf life.
“Grocers have a real logistical and structural problem unless someone can figure out how to grow the volume they require,” Mr. Goltz said.
After meeting with grocers in November, Mr. Goltz said aquaponics could solve many of their supply-chain problems. He contends vertical, indoor farming could provide a local solution.
He expects the operation would require around 40 local employees.
With two other operations under way in Saskatoon and White Horse, Canada, NutraPonics hopes to prove its model can operate under the most hostile growing environments. Once a Cayman facility takes off, Mr. Goltz envisions moving beyond leafy greens to a range of hothouse vegetables, including strawberries, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers and cucumbers.
“Our ultimate goal is to become kings of the strawberry empire in the Caribbean,” Mr. Goltz said.
While it has been difficult to attract international partners to the company’s Edmonton facility, Mr. Goltz said entrepreneurs in Singapore, Dubai and Oman have already shown interest in Cayman’s potential. He expects the islands’ natural beauty and tax neutrality will be a draw for investors.
NutraPonics’ operations in Cayman would fall under two branches, the vertical aquaponics facility, and a separate corporation for global development.
In the long term, Mr. Goltz hopes to turn the Cayman facility into a showcase for sustainable agriculture, where tourists and schoolchildren can learn about farming.
The company is evaluating a West Bay property owned by the National Trust for the project but has not finalized a lease on the land.
Mr. Goltz said his team is in the fundraising stage and meeting with potential partners.