Indoor shrimp biz grows bigger

WESTBY — Vernon County is known for its wild trout. But now it’s also the site of what’s believed to be the first shrimp farm in Wisconsin. Business is so good that the business, started earlier this year, is now expanding via a partnership in Dane County’s Stoughton after adding a UW-Madison research lab to its client list.

Dairyland Shrimp has reached an agreement with Albion Prairie Farm of Stoughton. Forbes Adam is the founder of Dairyland Shrimp; Maria Arendt and Nora Hickey, two students at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, are co-owners and part of the Dairyland team. Dale and Lisa Reeves, the owners of Albion Prairie Farm, also own an heirloom apple orchard and operate a cider press on the site where their shrimp facility is located.

Pacific White Shrimp have been living in tanks at the Dairyland Shrimp facility in the industrial park of Westby since earlier this year.

Shrimp live off a special feed and biofloc, a bacteria that consumes the shrimp’s waste. The operation is environmentally sustainable in a warehouse structure that is kept at a rather tropical 93 degrees. So far, Adam is hustling to keep up with demand. “After we got some initial publicity, it really took off,” Adam said of the business. “My biggest market has been to individuals. I do supply a couple restaurants (in Palmyra and Wausau), and would like to do more with those markets. We’ll have to expand to do that though.”

The partnership with the Stoughton farm is part of that expansion.

“The Albion Prairie shrimp facility infrastructure was built and ready for use when Dale and Forbes met,” Liz Reeves wrote in an email. “But the Reeves decided to get through the apple season before launching their shrimp business. We are looking forward to working with the Dairyland Shrimp team and their technical expertise.

“The companies see this as an opportunity to make continued system improvements in the way shrimp are farm raised, and will work together with the common goal to raise environmentally sustainable shrimp.” Adam is from Indiana, lived in Chicago for a while and was a double major in political science and philosophy at Loyola University. He found his way to the Driftless Area, in part because he thought it would be a good place for his family of wife and three kids.

“I was in the excavating business,” he said. “My mother sent me a story about a shrimp business near my hometown in Indiana. I jumped in the truck and went down to see it.

“None of my background is in aquaculture. I don’t particularly even like shrimp myself. But, a lot of people do, and there is a demand for it, grown closer to home.”

About 90 percent of shrimp are imported. Many come from China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere. There often is little regulation in these countries, and chemicals banned in the U.S. get into the shrimp’s waters.

“Wild caught shrimp are dwindling around the world,” Adam said. “China will eventually be importing shrimp. So, there is a need for raising of shrimp closer to home, under sustainable conditions.”

Dairyland’s web site explains the system the company uses to raise their shrimp: “Bio-floc shrimp farming facilitates a bacterial community where the bacteria accumulate in clumps called flocs, and break down nitrogenous wastes turning the organic wastes into high-protein feed for the shrimp. The flocs process nitrogenous wastes, and the shrimp feed on the flocs; a symbiosis that stabilizes water quality and supports rapid shrimp growth.”

The process, which the company says is organic-based without hormones, chemicals or antibiotics, takes about 120 days, and shrimp are then captured from the tank and sold live or put on ice.

Adam says his biggest expense is energy to keep the temperatures up in his growing area. He built the facility with the initial idea of renting it out, but when that didn’t pan out he started the shrimp farm. He plans to expand into the other section of the building in upcoming months and owns four acres overall around the site. So, he could expand more or provide space for other businesses.

In recent weeks, Dairyland opened a new market — the Biomedical Research Lab at UW-Madison. “They do research on squids there,” Adam said. “The squids eat shrimp, so we’re now supplying them. For somebody who had no background in aquaculture, this is a continuing education.”

Adam wouldn’t mind expanding into other areas of aquaculture, such as yellow perch and perhaps vegetables grown in water. “The depletion of the world’s oceans and other areas of the environment has created a demand for new ways to produce food,’ Adam said. “This has been true of shrimp and likely will be for other foods too.”

— By Gregg Hoffmann
For .