Believe it or not, shrimp could be Minnesota's next cash crop

A fixture on restaurant menus across the state, the demand for the bitesize crustaceans is so great that a few farmers in Minnesota have started growing their own.
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Americans eat a lot of shrimp. In fact, at 4 pounds per year per person, Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood, according to Undercurrent News.

A fixture on restaurant menus across the state, the demand for the bitesize crustaceans is so great that a few farmers in Minnesota have started taking advantage of new advances in indoor aquaculture technology to rear their own shrimp to sell.

And the fledgling industry in the state could get a whole lot bigger if plans revealed for southwest Minnesota by Balaton-based Ralco Nutrition come to fruition.

Via its subsidiary trū Shrimp Company, it plans to build the first commercial-sized shrimp operation in the state, Ralco told GoMN, which would mean the shrimp are hatched, raised and processed all in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The Bemidji Pioneer reports the company has already slated its processing facility for Marshall, and says it will soon make an announcement on where its first shrimp production facility – known as a "harbor," where the shrimp will be grown – will be built. Luverne and Marshall are in the running.

Coming first will be a shrimp hatchery, work on which is likely to start this spring, with the shrimp harbor and the processing facility expected to follow in spring 2018, the newspaper notes.

Tanks twice the size of football fields

The facility will be huge. MPR News reports the shrimp harbor is expected to cost around $50 million and would see the creation of a building twice the size of a Walmart Supercenter, containing water basins covering the length of two football fields stacked six high.

Ralco believes it can beat the quality of shrimp coming from low-cost producers abroad, who MPR notes supply 90 percent of American shrimp, because it will raise the crustaceans antibiotic-free and because it's a local operation, it is a sustainable product at a time when consumers are more and more concerned about the sources of their food.

Feedstuffs reports the University of Minnesota estimates the economic impact of the project could be huge for the Marshall/Luverne areas, with 330 jobs created at the facility itself and an estimated $23 million of economic activity generated for the area every year, not to mention the extra business for farmers who supplied the shrimps' feed.

When it's up and running trū Shrimp Company CEO Michael Ziebell estimates it will produce 150 million shrimp every year, he told the Bemidji Pioneer.

The latest farming trend

Seafood farming is the latest trend in America's agribusiness, enticing rural and urban growers to open facilities on small and commercial scales.

WQAD reports the shrimp-farming industry is starting to take off in Illinois and Iowa as well, while the New York Times reported in 2014 that tank farming has been on the rise amid dwindling supplies and questionable practices in the wild shrimp fishing industry.

In Minnesota, Northern Tide near Rochester is believed to be the first farm operation to turn to shrimp, making room in a former pole barn for saltwater tanks that owner Chad Axley uses to raise recently-born Pacific White shrimp delivered from coastal hatcheries.

And it's not just shrimp involved either. The Star Tribune reported a few years back that the Gandhi Mahal restaurant in Minneapolis built its own aquaponics system so it could raise fresh tilapia, with their waste used to fertilize vegetables also growing in the basement.

This is one of a growing number of mom-and-pop urban farming operations springing up around the country, but there are larger scale examples in the Twin Cities too like Urban Organics, which has two seafood and vegetable facilities in the former Hamm's and Schmidt brewery buildings in St. Paul.

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