Minnesota farmers try raising shrimp

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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MINNESOTA, USA (AP) — In a field on the outskirts of Morristown stands a purple pole shed.

The shed, which measures 40-feet by 100-feet, is surrounded by a field, and looks like it could house farming equipment or serve as a possible hang-out spot.

Instead, that purple pole shed houses four 6,500 gallon tanks that can potentially hold up to 30,000 shrimp each.

Since June, farmers Dan and Jon Melchert, in an effort to diversify from their crop farming, have been raising shrimp for their new business, Shrimp Guys.

Shrimp Guys grow the most commonly farmed shrimp, white Pacific shrimp, flying babies in from Florida and Texas.

The Melcherts first keep the baby shrimp in six plastic totes that hold 275 gallons of water each. The shrimp live in the tanks for approximately 30 days until they're transferred to the larger tanks for another 90 days, until they reach about 20 grammes in weight.

Jon Melchert calls his brother the “mastermind” behind their system, saying Dan Melchert is always dreaming up new ways to improve the complex set-up.

The saltwater is balmy, staying a constant 82 to 85 degrees in a zero exchange recirculating marine aquaculture system. The zero exchange is a type of shrimp farming that takes bacteria and puts them in clumps called flocs. The flocs break down nitrogen waste that can be consumed, along with the usual feed regimen, by the shrimp.

Since Shrimp Guys doesn't use filters, they rely on the zero exchange system to recirculate the water, reducing the waste that's generated.

The Melcherts grew up farming corn and soybeans, and they continue that today. So their approach to shrimp farming is far from dumping in feed and leaving for the day. The brothers know one slip-up can be devastating, like Dan Melchert learned after accidentally turning a valve too far, killing an entire tank's worth of shrimp.

“There's a lot of learning,” Dan Melchert told Agri News. “Some days there's not enough Mountain Dew to keep things rolling. Sometimes your brain is really smoking.”

However, the brothers like the ability to grow their current operation. Because of the space allotted in the shed, they are able to build upward, stacking tanks on top of each other.

At this time, Shrimp Guys is relying on word of mouth around the community to sell their shrimp. They hope to start meeting with retailers and to set up a regular booth at the Faribault Farmers Market. The brothers hope to sell 600 to 800 pounds of shrimp per year.

The Melcherts are constantly monitoring their system, trying to find ways to improve it. Dan Melchert, always dreaming up new ways to improve their set-up, is trying to find a way to cut their energy consumption in half, while still keeping up the same production.

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