Alternative Agriculture in Southern Illinois

Final Report for FNC01-382

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $2,530.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $18,710.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

OBJECTIVES
A. Promote a non-traditional alternative agriculture operation in Aquaculture producing a poly-culture of freshwater prawns and rainbow trout for retail sale.
B. A profitable business that wisely uses our natural resources and is compatible with our environment and our community.
C. Expanding an indoor prawn nursery to produce adequate volumes needed for outdoor pond stocking.
D. Receive post larvae shrimp in April, nurse to juvenile stage for pond stocking June 1, grow-out to continue until October, harvest shrimp and re-stock with rainbow trout for winter grow-out to be harvested in May.

PROBLEMS TO ADDRESS
A. Accessible water supply
B. Maintaining the quality of water in the indoor nursery tanks and outdoor ponds
C. Controlling growth and mortality
D. Developing effective feeding practices and maintaining adequate aeration including keeping water from freezing for feeding trout during winter months
E. Marketing

FARM DESCRIPTION
This is an individual farm, personally owned, consisting of 34 acres of non-tillable land that is ideally suitable for this type of alternative agriculture. The ten acres that will be utilized for this operation are not suitable for any other alternative agricultural option. The ten acres will allow for the future addition of more ponds.

This opportunity would also allow for expansion of the existing indoor nursery facility that includes a 1,000 gallon tank, filtration system, and aeration system that has been constructed at the cost of approximately $1,500 compared to $5,000 if commercially purchased.

PROJECT BACKGROUND
I put into operation a freshwater prawn and rainbow trout polyculture facility, consisting of two ponds and an external catch basin for harvesting, as well as expanded my nursery facility from 15,000 juveniles to 200,000 per year. Previously, I did not carry out any sustainable agriculture practices.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION
My project goal was to develop a profitable business by establishing a non-traditional alternative agriculture operation consisting of a nursery to produce adequate volumes of juvenile freshwater prawns for pond stocking in June; grow-out ponds used for the prawns until mid-September; after harvest of the prawns, restock the ponds with rainbow trout for winter grow-out and harvest in early May.

The planning and research aspect of this project was possibly the most challenging. Being non-conventional agriculture, product information was difficult to obtain. I started gathering information on the internet, although this turned out to be limited. A teacher at Shawnee Community College, Warren Koch, had some limited experience in the field of prawn production. So, eight other farmers and I took his class on prawn production. His knowledge was helpful, but very limited.

I started contacting experts in the aquaculture field. Dan Selock with SIU gave me direction as to where to look for these experts as well as giving me information on how to approach this project. Through Dan, I met Ed Wetzel, SIU Fisheries, Dr. Chris Kohler, SIU Fisheries, Dr. Sue Kohler, SIU Economic Development, and Chris Breden, Field Technician IL Fish Farmers Coop. I contacted Dr. James Tidwell, Kentucky State University, and Dr. Louis D’Abrams, Mississippi State University, all of whom have been very helpful and informative. As a result of these contacts, I have met hundreds of people involved in the freshwater prawn industry.

RESULTS
This section includes work done prior to 2002, as well as during the grant period.

Prior to the grant, I had two ponds built and a well dug for this project. I purchased a pump and had it installed in September 2001, within the grant period. I purchased the rainbow trout in October 2001 (not covered by the grant).

I considered this project to be extremely successful. I determined that in a time when corn, soybeans, and other conventional farming commodities and techniques lack the profitability needed to make maximum use of small acreages of agricultural ground, alternative agriculture products can be profitable. The small family farmer can add considerably to the financial income of their farm, for a reasonable amount of cash outlay up front, with some alternative agriculture products.

The Rainbow Trout (RBT) had a survival rate of close to 100%, 30 animals of nearly 900 died. Seven- to nine-inch fingerlings were stocked, each weighing about 4 ounces. I fed 1,100 pounds of Purina Aqua Max “Trout Chow and harvested 1,278 pounds of RBT. That’s nearly a 1:1 feed ratio. They averaged 1.43 pounds per fish. My net profit, after buying the fish and fish feed and paying the utilities, disregarding my labor, was just over $1800 for ½ acre of pond use, in six months.

The freshwater prawns were stocked at 10,000 juveniles per ½ acre pond. Twenty-two hundred pounds of Purina Shrimp Chow were fed and a total 875 pounds of prawns were harvested from both ponds. A sample indicated that about 16% had a count of 18-20 tails per pound; 42% had a tail count of 21-25; 28% had a tail count of 26-30; and 14% were small with 30 plus tails per pound. My net profit, after all expenses, except labor, was about $5,000 on one acre total of water.

I did very well this year, but I think with minor stocking density and feed ratio adjustments, my pounds per acre will increase, ultimately decreasing my cost per pound and increasing my net dollars per acre.

PROJECT IMPACTS
I think that my first year success demonstrates that the freshwater prawn industry has a very bright economic future. Following my financial calculations for this year, I will have a 100% payback on my investment in three year. The average cost to build a one-acre pond is $4,000. I have about $6,000 invested in all excavation, with a center levee separating [the one-acre pond] into two ½-acre ponds, and a drain pipe installed and buried. My well is 300 ft. deep and cost $3,600, and a 5 hp pump at $4,800, totals $14,400 for pond construction and water supply.

Environmentally, we have a very desirable situation. The seeded levees control and eliminate soil erosion. The freshwater prawns, being very sensitive to many chemicals, do not allow us to use herbicides, pesticides, or other contaminating chemicals. Our feed is specially formulated by Purina Mills, and is grain-based and made from natural ingredients. These factors combined make our industry one of the more desirable, environmentally speaking, than most conventional agriculture industries. Since we purposefully grow green algae in our ponds for oxygen production, we may even be considered a “green” industry.

The social impact may be the most outstanding part of this program. I have a festival on harvest day. In this festival, we include our local viticulture industry by inviting the wineries to have taste testing as well as wine sales. We provide entertainment and our delicious prawns are prepared in a variety of ways: shrimp kabobs and shrimp gumbo being two of the most popular. I also have an antique car collection on display.

People numbering upwards to 700 and traveling up to 300 miles attended from four different states. We sold 120 lbs. of shrimp tails on kabobs in 4 hours.

It is also interesting for the public to see a healthy food product actually harvested, weighted, and packed on ice to take home. The nutritional value of our product also makes it far superior to marine shrimp. Our prawns are lower in fat, sodium, and cholesterol, and higher in protein, and absent of iodine because of the fresh water.

The fee fishing in the spring is another great event for the public. People come from a 75-mile radius to catch our pond-grown rainbow trout. I acquire a fee fishing permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, so a fishing license is not required. The general public caught 552 fish in a three-day period starting April 19th. The net profit on the trout is not as good as the prawn although, I did come out in the plus column.

OUTREACH
Since the inception of this project, hundreds if not thousands of people have been affected in some degree. First, the Shawnee Freshwater Prawn Growers Association, of which I am president, has been formed. We are twenty-eight growers strong and growing monthly. I teach a prawn production class through Shawnee Community College. Over the past year, I have taught over 35 students on every phase of production from pond construction, stocking, and nursery, to marketing of our product. I have given numerous presentations to civic groups throughout our region as well as the SARE Administrative Council. Among these are our local farm bureaus, Kiwanis, and extension groups. I also have given many guided tours to groups and individuals interested in growing, marketing, or just consuming our product.

In terms of events, my festival was extremely successful. The education of young people learning about aquaculture, and prawn faming in particular, has an enormous effect on the general population.

The past year has been very busy for me. We started with our local CBS affiliate doing a feature on the prawn farming which generated much local interest. Then a photo journalist wanted to do an article for Farm Show magazine. I still receive calls from that article — calls from no less than eighteen states, from Massachusetts to California, South Dakota to Texas. Dan Selock from Southern Illinois University referred a reporter from the Associated Press to me. She did an article that was picked up by the national wire service. The article was printed in newspapers all over the United States: USA Today, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune as well as local publications throughout the US. ABC News sent a news team headed by Barbara Pinto to do a feature story that made it to “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.” [Editor’s Note: The show aired in September 2002.]

I think that it would be hard at this point in time to estimate how many people have been exposed to [prawn farming information] and continue to be involved in this up-and-coming industry.

PROGRAM EVALUATION
I think that this program is absolutely great for helping prospective alternative agriculture farmers to be introduced to the aquaculture industry. Especially in view of the difficult times that conventional farmers are facing. In respect to that, I would suggest that the criteria be more broad stroked as far as funding in particular areas. As an example, funding for pond construction in parallel with permanent fencing, as per page 4 of the invitation, also the cost of our juveniles is an annual operating cost — this might be considered for funding. Funding for alternative agriculture activities should be similar to mainstream projects. In conclusion, I realize funding is limited although if possible, the expansion of funding for alternative agriculture projects, not limited to, but including aquaculture be implemented.

The cooperation of your program as well as all of the support from Shawnee Community College, Southern Illinois University, The Illinois Fish Farmers Coop, and the Shawnee Freshwater Prawn Growers Association has ignited the fire to an emerging industry that has no limit for growth.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.