The aquaculture industry in Wisconsin could be in for a boost, as techniques for growing marine life in artificial ponds are leading to the state's first indoor shrimp farm.
Every morning inside a big red building near downtown Westby, you'll find Forbes Adam feeding his 14,000 shrimp.
“We can feed them a little bit,” he said, shaking a protein feed into the tank. “Oh, here they come.”
Small, translucent shrimp bop their way to the water's surface.
“When they're little, they're calm,” Adam said. “When they get older, they're flopping all over like crazy. Flopping around like... oh, there he goes!”
This is Dairyland Shrimp, Wisconsin's first indoor shrimp farm. The heaters, fans, and water pumps hum loudly and keep the room at a balmy 93 degrees. Pacific white shrimp swim in four saltwater tanks that look like huge above-ground swimming pools.
Adam may be an unlikely farmer. The former excavating contractor was looking for a new line of work when he stumbled across the idea of inland shrimp farming. He eventually visited an Indiana shrimp farm and was instantly hooked.
“I bought a pound of shrimp down there and when I ate it, I was just blown away by the flavor. I've never tasted shrimp that tasted so good. That's what really solidified the idea that I should do this.”
Adam isn't the first Wisconsin farmer to try shrimping, but he is the first to do it indoors.
Ron Johnson is an aquaculture outreach specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension. He says Wisconsin farmers have tried to raise shrimp in outdoor ponds in the past, but the region's climate isn't ideal for operations. Johnson says it's always good for the industry when a farmer tries to raise a product in a new way.
“Shrimp is one of the highest consumed seafood products in the United States, so the markets are there,” Johnson said. “It's just a matter of whether the shrimp can be produced economically to make a profit.”
It is profitable For Matt Weichers, who started Northern Iowa Shrimp in Cedar Falls last year.
“I'm completely sold out of shrimp,” Weichers said, “and I'm unable to keep up with that demand.”
Weichers only sells to individuals; he doesn't have enough shrimp to sell to interested restaurants and markets. Northern Iowa Shrimp has 40 tanks, 10 times the number as Dairyland Shrimp.
Weichers says a number of factors play into the growing demand for local seafood. Consumers are concerned about antibiotics and hormones commonly used at foreign shrimp farms. There's a shrimp disease sweeping farms in Southeast Asia and Mexico, and wild shrimp stocks are declining around the world. Weichers says indoor farming will help keep shrimp on the dinner table.
“I think it's the only way it's sustainable in the long run,” Weichers said. “The demand for a high-quality, high-protein, and healthy food is doing nothing but going up.”
Back at Dairyland Shrimp, Adam considers the industry's legacy.
“I don't know if it will be the wave of the future, but it definitely has the potential. I hope for the environment's sake it will be,” Adam said. “Not only for the environment, for just sustainable food and quality food, I think the United States does need more shrimp farms, absolutely.”
Beyond high energy costs, Adam considers his operation to be environmentally sustainable. He recycles water in the tanks and there is very little wastewater. Shrimp live off of feed and biofloc, a bacteria that consumes the shrimp's waste.
Adam already has plans to expand Dairyland Shrimp this year. He will sell his products to local individuals and restaurants, and at the nearby farmers' market.