Shrimp Farm­ing

This in­door shrimp-pro­duc­tion sys­tem aims to sup­ply grow­ing U.S. de­mand.

Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Jerry Perkins

More than 1,700 miles from the ocean, Ralco – the third-gen­er­a­tion, fam­ily-owned agribusi­ness head­quar­tered in Mar­shall, Min­nesota – is de­vel­op­ing a shrimp-pro­duc­tion busi­ness.

To raise and mar­ket the shrimp, Ralco spun off a com­pany called trū Shrimp. It is test­ing and im­prov­ing an in­door shrimp-pro­duc­tion tech­nol­ogy that was de­vel­oped at Texas A&M Univer­sity.

In an in­ter­view at a for­mer school­house in Bala­ton, Min­nesota, be­ing ren­o­vated as the new home for trū Shrimp, Brian Knochen­mus, pres­i­dent of Ralco and chair­man of the board of trū Shrimp, says trū Shrimp in­tends to raise shrimp in en­closed, heated, and in­su­lated build­ings and even­tu­ally hopes to build a net­work of 10 har­bors for shrimp pro­duc­tion. The har­bors will each pro­duce mil­lions of pounds of shrimp a year and em­ploy more than 100 peo­ple when fully op­er­a­tional. Lu­verne, Min­nesota, has been cho­sen as the site of the first har­bor.


Ralco holds a ma­jor­ity own­er­ship stake in trū Shrimp. There are 19 mi­nor­ity stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing Sch­wan’s Co., also in Mar­shall, Min­nesota, and 18 other in­vest­ing en­ti­ties.

The goal of trū Shrimp (trushrim­p­com­ is to rev­o­lu­tion­ize shrimp pro­duc­tion. “Our dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies and rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­cesses pro­duce shrimp sus­tain­ably and pre­dictably with­out use of an­tibi­otics and with un­equalled trans­parency and trace­abil­ity,” states the com­pany’s web­site.

Ralco was founded

47 years ago. This is its first foray into feed­ing and pro­duc­ing food, says Jamie Brink-Thord­son, trū Shrimp’s brand man­ager. The com­pany is in the re­search phase of shrimp pro­duc­tion, test­ing dif­fer­ent di­ets and for­mu­la­tions for its shrimp feed and study­ing how the feed per­forms in wa­ter to help make sure the wa­ter tanks hold­ing the shrimp are kept clean. “Wa­ter qual­ity is ev­ery­thing,” she says.

There is a ready mar­ket for fresh shrimp in the U.S., Brink-Thord­son says, with de­mand far out­pac­ing the sup­ply of do­mes­ti­cally-pro­duced shrimp. “We are in dis­cus­sion with a num­ber of re­tail­ers and food ser­vice com­pa­nies. We’ve had a warm re­cep­tion from those folks. We haven’t had to search too far for po­ten­tial part­ners.”

Seafood De­mand Up

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), which tracks seafood pro­duc­tion, the U.S. im­ported a record 664,109 met­ric tons of seafood in 2017, a 10% in­crease from the pre­vi­ous record of 603,525 met­ric tons set in 2016. In­dia and In­done­sia are the largest shrimp ex­porters to the U.S., ac­cord­ing to NOAA.

By value, al­most 90% of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is im­ported, with half of it com­ing from aqua­cul­ture pro­duc­tion. Ac­cord­ing to NOAA, the U.S. is a mi­nor aqua­cul­ture pro­ducer, but the lead­ing global im­porter of fish and fish­ery prod­ucts. trū Shrimp aims to fill the gap be­tween do­mes­tic shrimp pro­duc­tion and U.S. con­sump­tion, says Brink-Thord­son.

Ralco’s in­ter­est in shrimp pro­duc­tion dates back to 2008, when Knochen­mus and his fa­ther, Jon, Ralco’s pres­i­dent emer­i­tus, trav­eled to Ecuador to visit an out­door shrimp-pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tion. Brian Knochen­mus says a Ralco feed ad­di­tive had been found to be ef­fec­tive in con­trol­ling pro­duc­tion prob­lems at the fa­cil­ity. The fa­ther and son learned that out­door shrimp ponds are dif­fi­cult to man­age for ef­fi­ciency, qual­ity, and safety.

“We were stand­ing on a dike be­tween two of the out­door ponds,” Knochen­mus re­calls, “and I was think­ing, there has to be a bet­ter way to raise pro­tein.”

When he re­turned to Min­nesota, Knochen­mus started look­ing into the shrimp-pro­duc­tion process and dis­cov­ered an in­door shrimp-pro­duc­tion sys­tem that had been de­vel­oped by Ad­di­son

Lawrence at Texas A&M Univer­sity’s Port Arkansas, Texas, fa­cil­ity. “We spent seven hours with Lawrence,” he notes. “He wanted to know all about swine, poul­try, dairy, and beef cat­tle pro­duc­tion, and we wanted to know about shrimp.”

At the time, Texas A&M was close to fil­ing for a patent for the Tidal Basin shrimp-pro­duc­tion sys­tem. The univer­sity had li­censed the tech­nol­ogy to an­other com­pany, Knochen­mus says, but the com­pany hadn’t done much to ad­vance the sys­tem, so Ralco was awarded an ex­clu­sive li­cense for the do­mes­tic U.S. mar­ket in 2014. Ralco has met all of the li­cense’s per­for­mance clauses, he says, and im­proved on the sys­tem.

“Since we brought the tech­nol­ogy to Bala­ton, we’ve de­vel­oped new in­no­va­tions that are re­ally crit­i­cal to the tech­nol­ogy,” he notes. Main­tain­ing wa­ter qual­ity to lessen en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns in the tanks is the most crit­i­cal in­no­va­tion the com­pany has made, he adds.

No Bar­rier

Frigid Min­nesota win­ter weather is not a bar­rier to in­door shrimp pro­duc­tion. “It’s a lot eas­ier to heat a build­ing than it is to cool one,” Knochen­mus ob­serves.

In fact, be­ing lo­cated far from a coast is good. “We think we have a strate­gic ad­van­tage be­ing as far away from the ocean as we pos­si­bly can be,” he says. There are no qual­ity con­cerns from wa­ter spread­ing dis­ease by be­ing re­cir­cu­lated in the shrimp-pro­duc­tion ponds as it would be if they were fed by ocean wa­ter. “Suc­cess­ful pro­tein pro­duc­ers care for their an­i­mals,” he notes. “We can take care of the shrimp bet­ter here than if they were raised in the ocean.”

In Jan­uary, trū Shrimp com­pleted a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion of the In­no­va­tion Cen­ter and Lab­o­ra­tory lo­cated in the for­mer Bala­ton school­house that both Jon and Brian Knochen­mus at­tended as chil­dren. The ren­o­va­tion project al­lowed the com­pany to im­prove on the Texas A&M bench-scale tech­nol­ogy by in­creas­ing the width of the tidal basin tanks where the shrimp are raised and by dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing the length.

Also, the com­pany is col­lab­o­rat­ing with shrimp pro­cess­ing ma­chine man­u­fac­tur­ers to de­velop equip­ment that will more ef­fi­ciently re­move the heads and shells from the del­i­cate fresh shrimp.

“The shrimp will be pro­cessed im­me­di­ately af­ter leav­ing the tidal basins,” says Knochen­mus, “so they will need spe­cial han­dling.” Newly de­signed equip­ment will be un­veiled soon.

Test­ing the Process

The Bala­ton Bay Reef Train­ing and En­gi­neer­ing Cen­ter was com­pleted in the fall of 2018 as a re­search fa­cil­ity and as a train­ing cen­ter for new em­ploy­ees. In a tour of the fa­cil­ity, Brink-Thord­son says the cen­ter will pro­vide “an en­vi­ron­ment where we can test the shrimp-pro­duc­tion process. Shrimp are very sen­si­tive, so han­dling them with care is crit­i­cal.” Shrimp are al­ready be­ing pro­duced on a small scale at the Bala­ton Bay Reef fa­cil­ity.

Tech­nol­ogy im­prove­ments that have been achieved at the Bala­ton Bay Reef In­no­va­tion Cen­ter will lead to lower costs of con­struct­ing the har­bors, says Knochen­mus.

In Novem­ber 2017, trū Shrimp an­nounced that it in­tends to build its first shrimp-pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity and hatch­ery on 60 acres in Lu­verne, Min­nesota. The hatch­ery and har­bor can share the same site be­cause of en­gi­neer­ing and pro­cess­ing ad­vance­ments that have al­le­vi­ated biose­cu­rity con­cerns, ex­plains Michael Ziebell, pres­i­dent and CEO of trū Shrimp.

Lu­verne was picked as the site of the first har­bor and hatch­ery be­cause it has a pre­dictable wa­ter sup­ply, good la­bor force, is on In­ter­state 90, and has a great eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment depart­ment, says Knochen­mus.

In ad­di­tion to the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity and hatch­ery, the Lu­verne har­bor will house a nurs­ery, wa­ter-treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, and of­fices. When run­ning at ca­pac­ity, the Lu­verne har­bor will pro­duce mil­lions of pounds of shrimp a year, Knochen­mus says.

Brand man­ager BrinkThord­son says the com­pany in­tends to be mar­ket­ing its Min­nesota-raised shrimp some­time be­fore 2020. “We are re­ally go­ing to work on our brand now,” she says.

“We think we have a strate­gic ad­van­tage be­ing as far away from the ocean as we pos­si­bly can be.”

Brian Knochen­mus

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.