Shrimp Farming in Minnesota? It Could Happen

Potential. Opportunity. Healthy. Sustainable.

Those were some of the words used to describe the world of aquaculture Wednesday at the Emerging Opportunities for Fish and Shrimp Production forum at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn.

Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), along with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC), hosted industry experts for the daylong forum.

Dr. Addison Lawrence, Aquaculture Specialist for Ralco and world-renowned shrimp expert told attendees he has vision for land-based shrimp farming.

“Making shrimp actually cheaper than chicken and a commodity food group to increase the standard of living and feed this emerging, growing human population in this world with an excellent, healthy, delectable protein source.”

Dr. Addison, who retired from Texas A&M University after 36 years as a Regent Fellow, Senior Faculty Fellow, Project Leader and Scientist in Charge for Texas A&M Agrilife Research, and as a member of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition and Marine Biology Interdisciplinary Program Faculty, helped develop technology for an inland shrimp farm at Texas A&M University, which Ralco has patented.

“(Aquaculture is) growing at 8 percent a year overall. … Aquaculture is our growth industry. It is going to provide that needed, ample, extra protein source in the future.”

Addison said developing inland shrimp farms is important because the current practice of shrimp harvesting isn’t sustainable and is susceptible to disease and other biosecurity concerns.

“One of the problems in pond production today, and shrimp is a good example of that, is if you look at pond production in shrimp, about every two to four years we would have a new, catastrophic disease that was as bad as your turkey virus. But it happened every two to four years.

Lawrence said the virus comes from the oceans, and once in a pond, spreads rapidly.

Seafood connoisseurs

Americans love seafood. And Americans import seafood, which is second in import only to oil. Shrimp makes up the bulk of the imported seafood.

“Over 93 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. today is imported shrimp,” he said. “We’re on track this year to import $1.4 billion worth of shrimp. … We’ve gotta farm this stuff.”

Ralco is building a state-of-the-art research facility in Balaton, Minn., which Lawrence has helped oversee, with the goal to eventually build a shrimp farm, dubbed a “harbor,” near Tracy, Minn.

Lawrence’s technology involves stacking raceway systems – interconnected basins that allow water to cycle around the container like a raceway – to maximize the amount of shrimp that can be produced per acre.

The Ralco system he now oversees also incorporates the ability to change out water daily, and to implement other biosecurity measures to limit disease.

“The ultimate solution of animal production is a completely closed, completely controlled, biosecure facility,” he said, noting that the traditional raceway system was limiting and didn’t fit production in northern states.

SW Minn. impact

Lawrence said that based off a model where a harbor produces between 500,000 and 1.5 million pounds of shrimp per acre per footprint water each, depending on the size of the shrimp, and is sold for $10 a pound and adjusted for agricultural impact, the economic impact could range anywhere from $12.5 million to $25 million per year.

“Just think now, $25 million dollars on three acres, he said. “The only thing I know that we grow that could beat that isn’t quite legal in Minnesota, yet.”

Soybean farmers could benefit, as well, because each acre of production needs 1.5 million pounds of feed.

“Right now we are putting in an average of 33 percent soybean meal. Guess how many acres of soybeans that you have to do to have that? Just for one acre of shrimp production.”

Mike Ziebell, General Manager of Tru Shrimp Systems, a business division of Ralco, says that the Balaton facility will begin getting shrimp in September. The goal is to grow the production and the economics before investing in opening a harbor.

The Balaton Bay Harbor is a 20-plus acre parcel with an 8.9 acre building. The facility will have 32 reefs, which is a station that holds a basin, and each reef will have five levels, with 96 production basins planned. That facility will require 5 million pounds of soybean meal each year.

Several other industry experts spoke at the forum, including Dr. Nicholas Phelps, Associate Professor, Veterinary Population Medicine at the University of Minnesota; John Pollock and Jim Moline of Midwest Ag Enterprises/NutriVance; Paul Pierce, USDA Business and Industry Specialists for SW Minnesota, Zachary D. Robinson, Executive Director for Spark-Y and Dave Roeser, President of Garden Fresh Farms, Inc.

Some of the main points included:

  • Shrimp facilities and indoor facilities face many challenges, including regulations, capital investments such as buildings and technology
  • Minnesota has a robust aquaculture market made up of mostly live bait and stocking programs for walleye, northerns and muskies
  • Some funding is available through grants from USDA for rural impact projects
  • Aquaculture in Minnesota for commercial production is in its infancy