Increasing Sustainability of Crawfish and Low Salinity Shrimp Production in West Alabama

Progress report for FS20-322

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $12,581.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Greene Prairie Aquafarm, LLC
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
DAVID CODDINGTON
GREENE PRAIRIE AQUAFARM
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Project Information

Abstract:

Traditional versus Deep-water Crawfish System

We evaluated the production economics of crawfish farming in traditional and deep-water systems practiced on two commercial farms in west Alabama. In the process, we also proposed to evaluate the contribution that crawfish farming can make to a commercial saltwater shrimp farm enterprise as a diversification crop. After 1 year, we have produced a preliminary enterprise budget for a traditional crawfish farm, but insufficient data was collected in  deep water shrimp ponds to produce a budget. The study will be repeated a second year to collect more information for economic analyses.

Trapping Efficiency 

We evaluated the efficiency of trapping on the shallow inner slopes of ponds instead of in the deeper pond bottom of deep-water ponds. Short-necked traps were placed on the slopes and long-necked traps on the bottoms.  The time required to harvest traps from the deeper pond bottom was not appreciably different from that required for the inner slopes.  While the shorter necked traps were much easier to handle than the long necked traps, the time it took to walk the perimeter of the pond was similar for both kinds of traps.  There appeared to be a slightly greater harvest quantity from the bottom placed traps, but the increased handleability of the shorter traps seemed to surmount the decreased catchability.  In the future, pond depth will be lowered so that the shorter necked traps can be placed on the bottom rather than the slopes.

Project Objectives:

Traditional versus Deep-water Systems

Two farms were studied to provide us with economic analyses of crawfish production.  At Greene Prairie Aquafarm (GPA) two deep-water earthen ponds ranging from 4 to 4.5 acres each and averaging 3 to 4 feet deep were originally stocked with crawfish in June of 2018. These ponds would provide data for economic analysis of deep-water crawfish systems for comparison with traditional crawfish and inland, low salinity shrimp systems. They would also serve as the study site for the deep vs shallow trapping portion of the study. 

Two traditional crawfish ponds at German Creek Crawfish (GCC), originally stocked in May of 2018, provided data for the economic analysis of a traditional forage crop based production system. These ponds are 2.5 and 3.5 acres in size and have an average depth of 2.5 ft. These ponds were planted annually during July with a mixture of sorghum and Japanese millet for forage at a seeding rate of 50 pounds per acre.

Records of total costs, harvest yield, and sales for deep-water and traditional ponds were recorded on each farm in order to accurately compare the two production systems. A limited economic analysis was applied to each system to develop an enterprise budget for each production strategy. The returns from crawfish production will also be compared to low salinity shrimp culture which will be farmed during the same time at GPA. Additionally, water temperatures were monitored with automated temperature measuring devices ( Onset HOBO temperature loggers, Bourne, MA) in all ponds to identify the level of influence pond depth had upon maintaining cooler temperatures and extending the harvest season.

Tall vs short traps

We tested the use of long and short necked traps for harvesting crawfish at GPA.  Short necked traps were 30″ and the long necked were 53″ total length.  The short necked traps were modified to be 8″ taller than a typical pillow trap used in the Bayou.  The short traps were placed on the pond slopes in 18 to 24 inches of water and long neck traps were placed in 36 to 40 inches of water on the pond bottoms. The traps were alternated shallow and deep around the periphery of each pond with the same number of short and long necked traps in each pond.  On 3 different occasions the time it took to walk the ponds and harvest the traps was recorded.  On each occasion, the ponds were walked twice, once to harvest the short necked traps and once to harvest the long necked traps.  The total weights of crawfish were recorded for each harvest.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jesse James - Producer
  • Dr. Luke Roy (Educator and Researcher)
  • DAVID TEICHERT-CODDINGTON (Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:

Traditional versus Deep-water Systems

Two farms were studied to provide us with economic analyses of crawfish production in traditional crawfish and inland, low salinity deep water shrimp ponds. 

Greene Prairie Aquafarm, LLC (GPA) produces saltwater shrimp in low salinity water (2 to 3 ppt salinity)  using  earthen ponds ranging from 2 to 4.5 acres each and averaging 3.25 to 4.25 feet deep.  These ponds are designated deep-water ponds.  Three of these ponds were stocked with crawfish in June of 2018. The ponds also originally contained shrimp which were fed on a regular basis with a 32% protein pellet. The ponds were drained in 2018 without harvesting any crawfish.  The ponds were refilled and stocked again with shrimp in 2019.  During May – July the ponds were trapped for crawfish using long necked traps.  The ponds were drained again in October of that year to harvest the shrimp.  In 2020, the ponds were refilled, but not stocked with shrimp.  The ponds were fed twice a week starting in March at 20 lb/acre with catfish feed fines or cattle stocker pellets containing 13% protein. Trapping commenced the first week of April and terminated the third week of July.  These ponds will provide data for economic analysis of deep-water crawfish systems for comparison with  They will also serve as the study site for the deep vs shallow trapping portion of the study. 

Two traditional crawfish ponds at German Creek Crawfish (GCC), originally stocked in May of 2018, provided data for the economic analysis of a traditional forage crop based production system. These ponds are 2.5 and 3.5 acres in size and have an average depth of 2.5 ft. These ponds were planted annually during July with a mixture of sorghum and Japanese millet for forage at a seeding rate of 50 pounds per acre.

Records of total costs, harvest yield, and sales for deep-water and traditional ponds will be recorded on each farm in order to accurately compare the two production systems. A limited economic analysis will be applied to each system to develop an enterprise budget for each production strategy. The returns from crawfish production will also be compared to low salinity shrimp culture which will be farmed during the same time at GPA. Additionally, water temperatures will be monitored with automated temperature measuring devices ( Onset HOBO temperature loggers, Bourne, MA) in all ponds to identify the level of influence pond depth has upon maintaining cooler temperatures and extending the harvest season.

 

Long vs short traps

We tested the use of long and short necked traps for harvesting crawfish at GPA.  Short necked traps were 30″ and the long necked were 53″ total length.  The short necked traps were modified to be 8″ taller than a typical pillow trap used in the Bayou.  The short traps were placed on the pond slopes in 18 to 24 inches of water and long neck traps were placed in 36 to 40 inches of water on the pond bottoms. The traps were alternated shallow and deep around the periphery of each pond with the same number of short and long necked traps in each pond.  On 3 different occasions the time it took to walk the ponds and harvest the traps was recorded.  On each occasion, the ponds were walked twice, once to harvest the short necked traps and once to harvest the long necked traps.  The total weights of crawfish were recorded for each harvest.

Research results and discussion:

German Creek Crawfish

Production and rough draft enterprise budgets for 2 ponds at GCC follow.  Production in Pond 1 was poor and the enterprise budget demonstrated financial losses in that pond.  The situation was different for Pond 2 where production was about 3.5 times greater and net income was good.  The ponds will be tested again in 2021 and the enterprise budgets will be recalculated.

Table 1: Draft enterprise budget for GCC pond 1.

Pond 1

Item

units

Quantity

 

$/Unit

 

Total

Receipts

         

 

live sales

lb

382.75

 

2.66

 

1017.95

Total Reciepts

 

 

 

 

 

1017.95

 

         

 

Supplies

         

 

seed

lb

80

 

0.75

 

60.00

traps

 

37

 

2.52

 

93.24

sacks

 

13

 

0.38

 

4.85

bait

lb

756

 

0.3

 

226.80

 

         

 

Labor

         

 

harvest

hr

21

 

15

 

630.00

sales

hr

6

 

15

 

90

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total costs

 

 

 

 

 

1104.89

per acre

         

552.44

per lb

         

2.89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returns over total costs

 

 

 

 

 

-86.94

per acre

         

-43.47

per lb

 

 

 

 

 

-0.23

 

Table 2: Draft enterprise budget for GCC pond 2.

Pond 2

Item

units

Quantity

 

$/Unit

 

Total

Receipts

         

 

live sales

lb

1377.6

 

2.72

 

3749.30

Total Reciepts

 

 

 

 

 

3749.30

 

         

 

Supplies

         

 

seed

lb

132

 

0.75

 

99.00

traps

 

40

 

2.52

 

100.80

sacks

 

46

 

0.38

 

17.45

bait

lb

1170

 

0.3

 

351.00

 

         

 

Labor

         

 

harvest

hr

58

 

15

 

870.00

sales

hr

23

 

15

 

345.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total costs

 

 

 

 

 

1783.25

per acre

         

540.38

per lb

         

1.29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returns over total costs

 

 

 

 

 

1966.05

per acre

         

595.77

per lb

 

 

 

 

 

1.43

 

Greene Prairie Aquafarm

The total quantity of crawfish harvested in three ponds at GPA appear in the following table.  Pond N14 produced an acceptable quantity of crawfish, but ponds N15 and S8 produced relatively few crawfish.  In fact, many more crawfish were harvested in N15 and S8, but they were unmarketably small and thrown back to the pond.  These ponds were regularly fed with cattle cubes, but crawfish did not gain much weight.  We think that grass carp that had been put in these ponds earlier to control weeds ate the cattle cubes and any  other vegetative material that crawfish might have consumed.  So N15 and S8, were drained and the carp removed.  The inside periphery of the ponds were seeded with Japanese millet, and then refilled in the fall once the millet had grown. 

No enterprise budgets were calculated for GPA, because the data were insufficient.  These ponds will be tested again in 2021.

Table 1. Crawfish harvested in GPA ponds during 2020.  
Pond Wt (lbs) Area (Ac) lbs/A  
N15 574 6 96  
S8 865 4.8 180  
N14 1446 1.75 826  

 

Short vs. Long Neck Traps

The mean time taken to harvest tall and short neck traps was similar for both ponds.  Even though the tall traps were more difficult to handle, the majority of the time to harvest the traps was to walk the pond perimeter.  Mean production of tall traps placed on pond bottoms was very similar to those placed on pond slopes in N15.  In S8, the production appeared greater in the tall traps than in the short traps, however 95% confidence intervals placed around both means overlapped, so the means were not significantly different.  

Harvesting tall traps in deep water was more daunting and energy sapping than harvesting short traps.  This is because deeper water inhibits movement, and because the tall traps most be lifted much higher in the air in order to dump out the crawfish. The repetition of this action is quite tiring.  In 2021, pond depths will be lowered in order to make harvesting simpler.  Additionally, the placement of tall traps will be modified to allow them to be more easily removed for dumping and then replaced.  In the shallower pond, all traps will be placed on the pond bottom and none on the slopes.  It is thought that this may increase the catchability of traps.

Table 2. Summary of testing tall vs. short neck traps during 2020.

Pond S8 
  Tall Traps Short Traps 
Date Wt (lbs) Time (min) Wt (lbs) Time (min)
14-May-20 16.6 32.5 8.3 27
15-May-20 5.6 30 3 25
22-May-20 17.9 30 7.9 32
29-May-20 10.9 31 7.7 28
Total 51.0 123.5 26.9 112.0
Mean 12.8 30.9 6.7 28.0
STDEV 5.65 1.18 2.50 2.94
CI (.05) 5.54 1.16 2.45 2.88
         
Pond N15
  Tall Traps Short Traps
Date Wt (lbs) Time (min) Wt (lbs) Time (min)
14-May-20 8.8 38 9 35
22-May-20 10.1 31 7.1 29
29-May-20 5.5 30 5.2 40
Total 24.4 99.0 21.3 104.0
Mean 8.1 33.0 7.1 34.7
STDEV 2.37 4.36 1.90 5.51
CI (.05) 2.32 4.27 1.86 5.40

 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

8 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

4 Farmers
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

There are a number of crawfish farmers in the immediate area besides the two participating in this study.  Communication takes place informally with all of these producers from time to time.  Most often, information is shared about production , selling price of crawfish, bait usage and importation of shrimp from outside the State for sales purposes.  These has been discussion about forming a crawfish producer’s association to formalize these discussions.  After the studies are repeated in 2021, we expect to have convene a meeting with all the producers.

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Despite limited results with deep-water ponds, we already feel that the traditional way of seeding fallow ponds with plants such as Japanese millet and then flooding these ponds is probably more productive of crawfish than trying to feed crawfish with feedstuffs like shrimp feed or beef cattle cubes (20% protein).  However, another year of testing will allow us to evaluate the economics of not draining ponds to raise crawfish on feed stuffs.  Draining ponds incorporates greater use of water and more energy to refill ponds.

The use of long-necked traps in deep water ponds will be abandoned where practical in favor of shorter necked traps.  The shorter traps are much easier to deploy and harvest.  In order to make the use of shorter traps possible, we will lower the water level in the deep ponds by 12 to 18 inches.  Shallower ponds will also allow for easier movement in the ponds while working the traps. 

The labor to deploy and harvest traps became a demonstrable issue while working the traps in shallow and deep-water ponds.  The traps are worked 2 to 3 times a week.  Anything that makes the repetitive nature of trapping easier and less time consuming becomes important to the labor force as well as to the economics of trapping.  Crawfish farming on a large scale is done with specially designed harvest boats and very short traps.  Our smaller scale crawfish farming relies on people to walk the ponds to deploy, bait and harvest the traps.

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.