AMES, Iowa — With one in seven people consuming seafood every day, the aquaculture industry may offer an exciting growth opportunity in the United States.
Compared to conventional farming, aquaculture can be practiced successfully on a limited number of acres and sometimes inside previously used farm buildings.
Although many opportunities exist, many challenges also exist. A recent fact sheet produced by the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach outlines the industry and what today’s Midwestern grower can expect.
According to the publication “Introduction to Aquaculture in the North-Central Region”, the Midwest had 271 aquaculture farms in the last aquaculture census, conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture. These farms represented 9.2% of the approximately 3,000 aquaculture farms nationwide, and farm-gate sales accounted for 2.8% of the $1.52 billion in total US sales.
The publication stresses the importance of a good business plan, using modest and conservative production figures and focusing on the higher side for variable and fixed costs. It is important to overestimate the costs and underestimate the return, because the opposite can lead to significant financial pressure on the company.
“Like any business, the business typically costs significantly more to start and takes longer to reach full production than the original optimistic projections suggested,” according to the authors, Matthew Smith, Aquaculture Program Manager at the ‘Ohio State University Extension; and Greg Lutz, professor and aquaculture specialist at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
It is also useful to talk to other aquaculture producers, as well as research potential markets for opportunities. Aquaculture is more than fish farming. The definition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is “the rearing, rearing and harvesting of fish, plants, algae and other organisms in all types of ‘water”.
Aquaculturists need to think about what species they will grow and up to what age, what type of facility they will use, who will do the processing and distribution, and the best location for the facility.
Rural areas are generally more favorable for aquaculture and land is generally less expensive than in urban areas. However, there may be labor constraints in rural areas and distance to markets may be prohibitive.
The publication describes half a dozen different aquaculture production systems used in the Midwest, including ponds, aquaponics, raceways, and cage/net pen culture.
“Aquaculture is an extremely exciting, diverse and interesting segment within agriculture, but a thorough examination and understanding of the biology and business model being considered is essential,” the authors conclude.
Shareable photo: Raceway aquaculture production. This is a system commonly used in the Midwest for trout production.