WESTBY (AP) – America’s Dairyland might seem an unlikely place for growing some of the country’s favorite seafood.
Wisconsin’s first indoor shrimp farm is located in the heart of the Kickapoo Valley, where the organic food industry is booming. The family-owned Dairyland Shrimp raises Pacific White shrimp year-round in a large red building near downtown Westby. The heaters, fans and water pumps hum loudly and keep the room, which houses four saltwater tanks, at a balmy 93 degrees.
Forbes Adams is a former excavating contractor who was looking for a new line of work when he stumbled across the idea of inland shrimp farming. Adam visited an Indiana shrimp farm and was 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,” Adams told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Adams isn’t the first farmer to try shrimping, but he’s the first to do it indoors.
Ron Johnson, an aquaculture outreach specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, said Wisconsin farmers have tried to raise shrimp in outdoor ponds in the past, but the region’s climate isn’t ideal for operations. It’s always good for the industry when a farmer tries to raise a product in a new way, Johnson said.
“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.”
For Matt Weichers, it is profitable. He started Northern Iowa Shrimp last year in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
“I’m completely sold out of shrimp,” Weichers said. “And I’m unable to keep up with that demand.”
Northern Iowa Shrimp has 40 tanks, ten times the number Dairyland Shrimp has. Weichers said consumer concerns about antibiotics and hormones commonly used at foreign shrimp farms have helped drive the demand for ‘home grown’ shrimp.
Beyond high energy costs, Adam considers his operation to be environmentally sustainable. He recycles water in the tanks. Shrimp live off of feed and biofloc, a bacteria that consumes the shrimp’s waste.
Dairyland Shrimp begins sales in June.