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Kentucky aquaculture lab travels state to educate
By TIM THORNBERRY
Kentucky Correspondent

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A private, pay-to-fish lake or pond, though many don’t realize it, is an analogy of agriculture and aquaculture.

Both use land to create a product to sell, much the same as farmers grow wheat, corn or tobacco. Aquaculture is defined as the production of aquatic animals and plants under controlled conditions for all or part of its lifecycle.

Today, the use of farmland to produce fish, freshwater shrimp or other aquatic product has grown in popularity - thanks in part to the aquaculture program at Kentucky State University (KSU.)

The university has been involved in aquaculture for more than 20 years and has developed a graduate and undergraduate curriculum revered across the nation.

KSU is the only university in the state to offer such a program. In fact, KSU is the lead program nationally and internationally in five separate research areas.

As part of the program, a traveling classroom along with teaching activities has been developed by the school to take out into the state to demonstrate to students from kindergarten to 12th grade the biology behind aquaculture and its uses as part of agricultural diversification.

William Bean, a KSU aquaculture educator brings the mobile classroom around the state in an effort to introduce students, teachers and anyone else interested to the science of raising aquatic life and the benefits it could have agriculturally and economically.

“Kentuckians take pride in what they produce, so aquaculture has a lot of potential here,” he said. “We are farming the water instead of the land and trying to help farmers diversify.”

Kentucky’s aquaculture industry is still regarded as new and, according to the USDA, much of the future growth of U.S. aquaculture will occur in new species, in regions where aquaculture is a new enterprise.

Kentucky’s climate is well suited for production of new species such as hybrid striped bass, freshwater shrimp and paddlefish, and is suitable for the production of traditional species such as catfish and trout.

As part of the “classroom” activities, Bean not only tells students of these and other species, he brings some of them along as well. Participants get a chance to handle Red Claw crayfish and Tilapia, the African version of the Bluegill.

“This traveling program has been well received and it gives teachers a chance to introduce aquaculture into their curriculum by seeing the core content firsthand,” Bean said. “Most of the kids are familiar with the crayfish, but the Tilapia is new to them. We tell farmers the biggest difference between them and the bluegill they are used to, is they’ll sell the Tilapia for dollars per pound rather than pennies per pound.”

Bean explained that the first thing KSU researchers will help farmers do is to examine their options on what and where to grow. “Site selection is the main thing. We’ll come out to the farm, test the water supply and help the producer decide what is best for them,” he said. “Not every farmer needs to go into aquaculture but for those who do, it won’t replace the income they may have received from tobacco but it will help them keep the farm.

“It’s like any other crop, you get out of it what you put into it.”

Another factor that contributes to the potential success of aquaculture here is location.

Kentucky is within a day’s drive of many major metropolitan centers, making it ideally suited for marketing fresh - and even live - products. Current state consumption of seafood is estimated at more than 60 million pounds per year, worth an estimated $568 million annually. Less than 4 percent of that is produced within the state.

The latest stop for the KSU mobile classroom was at the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) state conference.

Students normally engaged in health care matters got a chance to tour the classroom and learn of the possible connections between them and the world of aquaculture.

Bean explained to students the obvious and not-so-obvious relationship between the healthcare industry and the aquaculture industry.

Besides veterinarian medicine, Bean told the group that any time animals are grown in small, confined areas, disease is a constant worry.

New medicines to fight those diseases will be critical since they not only have to be safe to the animal but also to humans.

Heather Phillips, an HOSA member and student from Webster County, heard the word aquaculture for the first time while visiting the classroom.

“Before coming in here, I thought I would just see a lot of fish,” she said. “But I’ve learned a lot about the different species, the diseases that could affect them and how aquaculture and health sciences can be connected.”

State HOSA Advisor Elizabeth Bullock welcomed the new addition to this year’s conference.

“The healthcare industry holds employment opportunities in numerous, diverse areas that impact our economic outlook,” she said.

“We’re grateful to KSU for providing this experience which enhanced the students’ awareness of less publicized careers.”

Between 1980 and 1998, the value of U.S. aquaculture production rose more than 400 percent with the 1998 Census of Aquaculture reporting farm-level sales of $972 million.

Kentucky has the ability to play a major role in the growth of the aquaculture industry as more and more people learn of its possibilities through the KSU Aquaculture program.

For more information, visit their website at www.ksuaquaculture.org

This farm news was published in the March 15, 2006 issue of Farm World.

3/15/2006