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Midwest producers have good luck raising prawns
By NANCY VORIS
Indiana Correspondent

MARTINSVILLE, Ind. — Like fish out of water, some Midwest entrepreneurs are proving you don’t need the deep blue sea to harvest a tasty catch of fresh shrimp.

“They actually grow bigger here than in Louisiana and Alabama. The water there is too hot and they won’t grow,” said Bob Boyd, owner of Bob’s Shrimp and Trout Farm in Cobden, Ill., and cofounder of Shawnee Freshwater Prawn Association, vice president of Freshwater Prawn and Shrimp Growers Association and president of the Illinois Aquaculture Industry Association.

He spoke recently at the Freshwater Prawn Conference held in Martinsville, Ind., which included talks from Kwamena K. Quagrainie, Purdue University’s aquaculture marketing specialist, and Tom Springstun, Purdue extension educator and freshwater prawn raising and training specialist.

“We believe there could be a prawn industry in Central Indiana,” said Jim Roudebush of the Farmers Alliance Network, a sponsor of the conference. “It’s up to you to make it happen.”

Giant Malaysian Prawn grown in fresh water have more dense meat and are lower in sodium and fat than those grown in saltwater, Boyd said.

Like many farmers during the economic downturn of the 1970s, Boyd left the farm and joined the workforce. In 2000 a new idea and an entrepreneurial spirit brought him home.

The first year he tried growing shrimp inside in a cattle tank. But the logistics of successfully growing prawn indoor are still evolving.

“They can’t do as well indoors,” Boyd said. “They need the natural organisms from the pond to grow well and they are cannibalistic - voracious eaters and if there is not enough food they’ll eat each other.”

But Boyd was hooked.

“It was a labor of love, and so interesting it’s hard to let go,” he said.

They next year he built two half-acre ponds that allow full drainage and installed a pump and aerators, essential to keeping oxygen in the water. Without oxygen, the shrimp climb on the banks of the pond and die.

His start-up costs were about $16,900 and a SARE grant brought him $2,500.

The first year he stocked the ponds with 16,000 juvenile shrimp. Adding feed and utilities brought his costs for the year to $2,385. Boyd uses farmer ingenuity to keep costs down. He built a shrimp nursery using a silo ring with a swimming pool liner and spent only $2,500 versus the $10,000 it would have cost retail.

“If I can do this, anyone can,” he said. “I’m not a rocket scientist, I’m a dirt farmer.”

The growth period is from June to September, a good window between planting and harvest for traditional farmers.

Like all farming ventures, weather is a risk factor. Water temperature cannot fall below 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the prawn to survive. They grow best at about 75 degrees.

Boyd planned a shrimp harvest festival the first year, a good move that attracts media attention in the Midwest where fresh shrimp is a rarity. Boyd’s phone was ringing before a TV spot on the festival was over.

“If I was as close to Indianapolis as (Martinsville), I’d have shrimp farms all over,” he said.

The day of the festival people sit for hours on the banks and watch as the water drains from the pond, pulling the shrimp into catch basins. They bring coolers of soft drinks or beer on ice to enjoy during the day, and then pack their purchased shrimp in the ice for the trip home.

“It can be stressful, waiting for the pond to drain, because people are wanting 1,000 pounds and you don’t know if you’ll have 10,” Boyd said.

The shrimp sold for $8 per pound. While waiting, Boyd has a local winery offering samples and vendors with flea market booths. Shrimp kabobs are sold if the catch is good.

In nearby Monrovia, Ind., Tim and Julie Connors became only the second shrimp farm in Indiana in 2004.

Tim works at Allison Transmission in Indianapolis and wanted to try a value-added enterprise on their property.

The Connors added a pond to their mostly-wooded acreage to try the new venture.

“We thought about cows, but we came up with prawns,” Julie said.

At their first Connor Shrimp Farm festival, between 300 and 400 people showed up and they sold out of prawns in just a few hours.

But they learned a lot that first year, because the pond did not drain until the next morning. People gladly came back to buy their shrimp. The Connors are anxious to share their experiences and what they have learned.

“We’re not worried about competition,” Julie said. “We want to help others get started.”

For more information, contact the Connors at jrc6349@aol.com or 765-349-1427.

This farm news was published in the April 26, 2006 issue of Farm World.

4/26/2006