Aquaculture research valuable for soybean farmers

In recent years, the growing aquaculture industry has started to dip into research on the potential impact soybean meal has as part of fish’s diet. Facilitating funding programs and research studies that increases the utilization of United States soybean, the Soy Aquaculture Alliance (SAA) has completed two national studies, both providing benefit to soybean farmers.

“Every study we do gives us more information and more credence to believe soybeans are a real opportunity for the U.S. aquaculture industry,” says SAA Executive Director Andy Tauer. “We’ve been investing for a number of years and every study builds on the one before. We’re making real headway now, and seeing the results that will benefit the fish farmer and the soybean farmer alike.”

The SAA supported a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources study on using metabolites as a biological marker for nutritional stress in red drum, which opens the door to understand how soybean-formulated diets influence fish growth and feed conversion. Results found that fish fed a 60% percent supplemented soybean meal diet had nearly the same growth, weight and feed conversion of fish fed natural reference (squid, shrimp, and fish) diets. This research provides a path for assessing this biological marker and opens the door to further research of including soybean meal at higher rates to benefit both the U.S. aquaculture industry and the U.S. soybean farmer.

“Soybean meal is abundant in the U.S.,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Dr. Ken Overturn. “When you have a product that is consistent and available compared to fishmeal, a finite resource with increasing cost, it’s worth evaluating if genetic selection can lead to a fish species that can maximize the resource.”

Overturn, a research geneticists with USDA’s Research Service, began his own study in 2013 with grant funding provided by SAA and the United Soybean Board (USB), which is now being used by some of the largest aquaculture companies. The fish were able to break down and utilize the amino acids more efficiently. Overturn’s research concluded that genetic variation does exist, leading the way for rainbow trout to be raised on a fully plant-based diet.

“Aquaculture is a fast-growing industry, meeting the health needs of today’s consumer,” says Jim Willers, a director with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) who also chairs MSR&PC’s new uses action team. “It is imperative for us to find ways to use our soybeans in this industry and increase the demand for our soybeans.”

MSR&PC and the soybean checkoff currently invests in two research projects focusing on increasing soybean meal and soybean oil in fish diets. SAA is leading the charge to establish soybean oil as a preferred lipid ingredient to replace fish oil in aquaculture feed. This not only lowers the costs for fish farmers, but also adds beneficial nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, to a human’s diet.

In addition to the implementation of soybean oil, researchers at Auburn University are taking a step back to revalue the efficiency of amino acids in shrimp feed. According to Auburn’s research, the implementation of soybean meal could provide increased growth of the shrimp and lowers production costs while ultimately increasing the demand for soybeans.

“This continued research is exciting for soybean farmers to hear,” Willers says.  “It not only increases demand for soybeans, but puts Minnesota at the forefront of some of the most innovative agricultural practices.”

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