trū® Shrimp Systems, in the southwestern Minnesota town of Balaton, hopes to become the premier supplier of fresh shrimp to the United States. With their innovative technology, the world is their oyster — success here could open the door to the 1.6-billion-pound demand for shrimp in the United States.
It’s a billion-pound market and it’s a space corn producers have never been in before. Thanks to a grant from Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, trū® Shrimp Systems is titrating different levels of corn into the ration of shrimp feed in their Pilot Production & Innovation Center. When balanced with other nutritional elements like soybean meal and fish meal, corn appears to complement the shrimp diet nicely.
trū® Shrimp Systems is a division of Ralco, a science and technology company headquartered in Marshall. It obtained patented technology created by Texas A&M University to produce the high-protein marine shrimp in conditions that are ideal in terms of animal care, food safety and environmental stewardship.
“We are raising the shrimp in shallow water, and it is completely indoors, which protects the shrimp from the elements, and any diseases that could be in the environment,” says Dr. Jon Holt, an animal nutritionist and Director of Research of Development for trū® Shrimp Systems. Dr. Holt is the principal investigator in this corn feed research project.
He notes, “Most of the shrimp grown today are grown in outdoor deep water ponds, adjacent to the ocean, and filled with ocean water. While it takes the water from the environment, it also releases a waste stream back into the environment. Our system is completely enclosed and environmentally friendly. The water will be treated before any of it is put out of the facility, and we intend to recycle 90 to 95 percent of the water we use. We will continuously recycle to maintain the system. Our shallow tanks utilize Tidal Basin™ technology. We bring in our water and put it through reverse osmosis filtration and add salt to fresh water. That way, the salinity and content of the water are completely controlled. We can create a perfect environment for the shrimp.”
America is the largest market for shrimp in the world with a per capita annual consumption of five pounds of shrimp for every man, woman and child.
“As we continue to see developing countries growing in their discretionary income and resources, we see those societies adding protein to their diet,” Holt notes. “There isn’t as much space for more pigs, more chickens, or more cows. There is however, space for more shrimp. As we see people adding protein to their diets it tends to be marine-sourced protein. It’s a market that continues to grow. Demand is growing but we really can’t harvest any more from the ocean fisher. Ocean fisheries for shrimp are tapped out and restrictions have been put in place.”
The U.S. actually imports over 80 percent of the shrimp it consumes. Most is produced at sites in tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Ecuador, where food safety is not a high priority. This tropical origin explains why corn has not been tried before as a feed source for shrimp.
“The corn grown in tropical areas is typically high in mycotoxins,” Holt explains. “Especially aflotoxotin. Shrimp are especially susceptible to aflatoxin. When we get up here to the upper Midwest, our grain has a very low incidence mycotoxin, which makes corn grain much more appealing.”
Innovating a major source of fresh shrimp inside the U.S. could greatly reduce the pressure on the oceans, as well as create a new value-added market for Minnesota-grown corn.
“All our shrimp are hatched in the U.S. They are tested and proven disease free,” says Holt. “We grow our shrimp as naturally as possible. There are no added antibiotics ever. No hormones are approved for fish. So we fit many of the all-natural production systems that other species have, we fit them inherently, because we are not going to do these things ever.”