Southwestern Minnesota may still be famous for a Little House on the Prairie, but soon it may be known for a Big Shrimp Farm on the Prairie.
A Minnesota agribusiness said Wednesday it has finalized plans for a $50 million shrimp processing plant in Luverne – not far from the hatchery it's planning in Marshall. The trū Shrimp Company says it will also have a training center for employees in the town of Balaton, where its parent company, Ralco, is based.
The Luverne location and the target date of an early 2018 groundbreaking were some of the new elements revealed Wednesday, but plans for trū Shrimp's operations have been trickling out since Ralco won a license for newly developed aquaculture technology a couple of years ago.
Why raise shrimp in Minnesota?
Shrimp have traditionally been raised in oceanside ponds. But that makes them vulnerable to the same pollution and bad weather that affect the oceans.
Michael Ziebell, the CEO of trū Shrimp, says the new Minnesota operation will make shrimp that's "safe, clean, and abundant" – 8 million pounds a year of it.
Right now 80 percent of the shrimp eaten in the U.S. is imported from Southeast Asia. That's partly because most North American water is too cold for shrimp. But moving production to indoor tanks means shrimp can be raised anywhere year-round. And Ziebell says there's no better place to do it than Minnesota:
“We are often asked why raise shrimp in Minnesota, and the answer is because the feed is here. Economically and environmentally it makes much more sense to raise shrimp near their food source than to ship feed to shrimp raised in coastal ponds thousands of miles from the U.S. market," he says.
Boost for the region's economy
Ralco has already had the U of M analyze the potential impact of the shrimp operation on southwestern Minnesota's economy.
Their bottom-line estimate is a $48 million dollar impact in a five-county area. $14.5 million of that would come from construction of the plant, the economists said. Once it's up and running, it would send about $23 million a year rippling through the area on the strength of 124 jobs.
Indoor shrimp farming is starting to pop up around the U.S. In fact, some of it is already happening in Minnesota. Northern Tide is a shrimp farm that got started in a former pole barn in Elgin, not far from Rochester.
But the scale of trū Shrimp makes it unlike any other project, its backers say, with the Luverne facility covering nine acres when its finished.
By the way, it'll be known as "Luverne Bay Harbor." The shrimp will hatch at "Marshall Cove Hatchery" and workers will be trained at "Balaton Bay Reef."