European Nightcrawlers to Martian Farmers


SOL 174

Earth 2044

Sakana Industries  looks to sell their hydroponic and aquaponic farming systems on Mars. Photography by HFZ.

Sakana Industries looks to sell their hydroponic and aquaponic farming systems on Mars. Photography by HFZ.

For her 10th birthday, Suki’s father made her in charge of the worm composter in the backyard. European Nightcrawlers were the worm of choice, as they were perfect fishing bait and easy to reproduce. “I was not afraid of getting a little dirt under my fingernails,” Suki explained. Every Saturday morning, she made sure to have a pail of fresh worms on her father’s fishing boat. 

“I may have been the only girl in middle school who enjoyed working with worms, but these early experiences in farming and composting exposed me to the wonderful technologies of agriculture.”

After completing a PhD in agriculture and environmental studies at Cornell, Dr. Sakana began to see the need for new farming technologies on the Mars Colonies. Although early astronauts and researchers used nascent farming technologies, significant progress was yet to be made. As a result, Dr. Sakana set out to design and develop the next generation of farming technologies for use on Mars.

Dr. Sakana and her team developed two fundamental new technologies that revolutionized farming on Mars.

Within four years, Sakana Industries developed a proprietary and scalable aquaponic system to cultivate food at scale on Mars. Until the launch of Sakana Industries proprietary aquaponic system in 2035, Ponic Farming—hydroponic and aquaponic farming—was generally done at a smaller scale, usually by hobbyist farmers. Dr. Sakana and her team developed two new fundamental technologies that revolutionized farming on Mars: a modular, self-contained Ponic Farming system that can scale to any theoretical size and a farming system that allows for water conservation and reuse. 

The company developed a modular farming system that can be built and expanded at any theoretical scale (given the essential environmental factors are present). The aquaponic and hydroponic farming system allows for animal waste produced by the aquaponic fish to be reused as a fertilizer in the complimentary hydroponic farming solvent. Prior to Sakana Industries’ system, aquaponics required specific proportions of aquaponic and hydroponic tanks to allow for the correct amount of mineralization in the hydroponic water solvent. Sakana Industries developed an attached external reservoir that allows for the animal waste to be processed and added to the water solvent, enabling the removal of proportional constraints.

One drawback of most hydroponic and aquaponic systems is the high usage of water—Sakana Industries addressed this issue by developing a farming system that conserves and reuses at least 70% of water in the system. Water conservation is achieved using a solar power water filtration system that purifies the water solvent. This filtered water can then be reused, in the same farming system. With Sakana’s filtration technology, net consumption of water in aquaponics farming systems is less than a third of the water generally used in traditional agriculture and livestock farming.

After Sakana Industries released their new Ponic Farming technologies, several other aquaponic and hydroponic farming companies emerged, such as Tyco Foods and Pescamore Systems. All of these companies developed Ponic Farming systems that grew a wide variety of produce, such as leafy greens, legumes, roots, fruits, nuts, and grains. Aquaponics also accelerated fish farming at an unprecedented rate on Mars, with tilapia being the most common stock (as this freshwater species that can tolerate changing conditions and overcrowding). 

An Unexpected Windfall

Around the same time as the release of Sakana Industries’ Ponic Farming system, several non-profit organizations, such as Green Farm and the Meatless Campaign, ran a sundry of global campaigns to educate the public on the large water footprint and significant amount of methane emissions being produced by farm animals—both affecting climate on Earth. In the late 2020s, public opinion began to shift against the consumption of meat, generally for these environmental reasons. By linking meat consumption directly to climate change, Green Farm was generally successful in not only reducing the global consumption of meat, but also garnering public support for international agreements and legislation against livestock production and taxation on meat consumption.

Nova Scotia Climate Agreement

Due to the change in public opinion, many nations were compelled to sign the Nova Scotia Climate Agreement in 2039. One of provisions in the agreement was to reduce cattle production through taxation in participating countries. The Nova Scotia Climate Agreement was signed by 36% of nations on Earth, including India, Russia, China, and Brazil. 

The cattle taxation provision in the Climate Agreement presented Sakana Industries with a previously unexpected windfall. With the decline of beef production, the consumption of fish began to dramatically increase on Earth. Sakana Industries realized that their proprietary aquaponic farming system has the potential to meet a new demand for fish worldwide. As a result, Dr. Sakana and her team began selling their aquaponic systems to existing livestock farms and ranches that were experiencing lower demand. Many cattle farms began to convert their farmland into Ponic Farms, producing both vegetables and fish. These early adopters typically generated higher profits than traditional farms, by producing both plants and fish at substantial yields and by selling fish at higher prices (due to the increase in demand).

Dr. Sakana states “The Nova Scotia Climate Agreement was beneficial both to our planet and to the company. Prior to the agreement, we did not predict the rapid increase in demand for our new farming technologies on Earth—we were solely focused on developing a farming technology for Martian farms. We were happy to meet this new demand on Earth, allowing our company to be cash flow positive and profitable much earlier than expected."

Franchise Farming

Dr. Sakana and her team first intended for their aquaponic system to be a viable, scalable technology for farming on Mars. During their development phase, the company received several contracts from NASA and private companies on Mars to build farming systems on the Red Planet. After witnessing Sakana Industries’ success in developing farming systems for Mars, a suite of companies also developed several complimentary technologies that provided an infrastructure for Martian farming at scale. These technologies protect crops from radiation and allow for optimal levels of sunlight on Martian farms.

Exposition. Settlement planners assign certain land plots around Martian settlements for food production. Due to the high transportation costs, including the high energy costs associated with food preservation, farms are generally in close proximity to residential areas and businesses on the planet.

Due to the success of selling Ponic Farming systems to farms on Earth, Dr. Sakana and her team have the capital today to explore the possibility of becoming a food provider on Mars, rather than simply supplying their Ponic technologies to existing farms. Food remains to be an expensive commodity, with almost all corporations on the Red Planet opting to provide food at-no-cost to their employees. Sakana Industries assessed the demand for food on the planet and realized that by starting their own farms on Mars, they can capture close to 25% of the market for food in certain colonies within the first few years of production. Most of this demand would come from corporations purchasing food for their employees; however, Sakana Industries also plans to create direct-to-consumer food options through restaurants, grocery stores, and cafes.

“We are also exploring the opportunity of franchising future farming operations on Mars.”
— Dr. Suki Sakana, CEO of Sakana Industries

Dr. Sakana says, “we are also exploring the possibility of franchising future farming operations on Mars. We would provide our proprietary farming technology and a plot of farmland to franchisees who would operate the farm and take a percentage of the profits from the produce sold.” Sakana Industries expects a significant interest in farming franchises since many settlers are recent transplants from Earth who came to Mars seeking a “mundane and serene job” like farming. 

“I was lucky to experience the joy of farming at a young age. I believe there is a certain humility and honest-to-goodness in farming. Many others on Earth, especially computer engineers, bankers, or folks who work a desk job, would also enjoy simple farming at some point in their lives. Owning one of our franchise farms on Mars would be a great way to indulge the agrarian lifestyle.”

The Mars Food and Nutrition Council plans to reduce the price of certain commodities on the planet, with food being a top priority. As a result, Sakana Industries will be presenting their food production and franchise proposals to the council on SOL 321, vying for a stimulus package and valuable land grants to start their own farms or franchises on Mars.

Colonists on Mars have already started to voice their concerns over Sakana Industries becoming a food producer on Mars. Settler James Dillon says, “through the purchase of private land on Mars, Sakana Industries has the potential to have a monopoly on food production in some settlements on the Red Planet. Inviting a private company to possibly have a monopoly over any commodity on our planet, especially something as important as food, can only lead to bad things.” 

As Sakana Industries continues to be the largest seller of hydroponic and aquaponic farming systems on Earth, Dr. Sakana and her team have their eyes set on a lush Red Planet.

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Sierra has been a writer for The Martian Passage since 2037. She writes about science and technology.