AMES, Iowa — With one in seven people consuming seafood every day, the aquaculture industry can provide an exciting opportunity for growth in the United States.
Compared to conventional agriculture, aquaculture can successfully be practiced on a limited number of acres and sometimes inside of previously used agricultural buildings.
While many opportunities exist, so do many challenges. 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 Midwest producer can expect.
According to the publication “Introduction to Aquaculture in the North Central Region,” the Midwest had 271 aquaculture farms as of the most recent Census of Aquaculture, conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture. Those farms represented 9.2% of the nation’s nearly 3,000 aquaculture farms, and farm-gate sales was 2.8% of the $1.52 billion in total U.S. sales.
The publication stresses the importance of a good business plan, using modest and conservative production numbers and focusing on the higher side for variable and fixed costs. It is important to overestimate costs and underestimate yield as the opposite can lead to significant financial strain on the business.
“Just like any venture, the business usually costs much more to get started and takes longer to get to full production than original optimistic projections would suggest,” according to the authors, Matthew Smith, aquaculture program director with Ohio State University Extension; and Greg Lutz, professor and aquaculture specialist with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
Talking to other aquaculture producers is also helpful, as is investigating 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 breeding, rearing and harvesting of fish, plants, algae and other organisms in all types of water.”
Aquaculture producers need to think about what species they will raise and to what age, the kind of facility they will use, who will do the processing and distribution and where the facility is best located.
Rural areas are generally more supportive of aquaculture, and the land is usually less expensive than in urban areas. However, there can be labor constraints in rural areas, and the distance to markets may be cost prohibitive.
The publication outlines a half-dozen different aquaculture production systems used in the Midwest, including ponds, aquaponics, raceways and cage/net pen cultures.
“Aquaculture is an extremely exciting, diverse and interesting segment within agriculture, but a thorough review and understanding of the biology and business model being considered is critical,” the authors conclude.
— Iowa State University Extension and Outreach