Midland Co. using algae-based RAS to grow shrimp in Iowa

Published on
February 12, 2021

U.S. land-based shrimp farming startup Midland Co. is on the verge of bringing its first batch of shrimp to market as the company prepares to continue construction on its recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facility in Story City, Iowa.

Founded in 2018, and formerly known as Kimle Aquaculture, the company uses its trademarked algae-based RAS technology to grow Pacific white shrimp, bringing local, fresh shrimp to landlocked the Midwestern United States.

“The algae-based concept was built off past experiences and challenges that RAS facilities still have – mainly coming from the nitrates and phosphates that have to be blown down from these systems as they accumulate,” Midland Founder and President Jackson Kimle told SeafoodSource. “While [RAS] has been the answer to water-usage issues and producing closer to markets, there's still a discharge product that adds complexity through wastewater systems or has an effect on the environment around them.”

This algae-based RAS technology makes aquaculture more sustainable, said Kimle. The algae captures nutrients from water and carbon from the air, leaving the water purified and oxygenated in a single, one-step wastewater treatment system. The nutrient-dense algae are then recovered to be used as an alternative fertilizer, removing the discharge that comes with wastewater systems.

“I really thought there was an opportunity to use algae instead of bacteria,” Kimle said.

Partnering with a local university, the company ran several small-scale pilot tests with trout and shrimp, proving that it could run a system that was high-loading, in both fresh-water and salt-water uses, that didn't have accumulation of nitrates or phosphates – and could be a zero-discharge system.

Market research then led the company to focus solely on shrimp. In a 20,000-square-foot facility located in a former mall, the company plans to produce about 80,000 pounds a year of 15- to 20-count shrimp when it gets up to full production. Currently, Midland Co. is running just one tank, but it plans to add 12 more tanks as demand increases. Each tank is 22,000 gallons, 50 feet long, 15 feet wide, and about four feet deep. The company’s model is centered around contract growing – a model that’s worked well for the swine and poultry industries in the Midwest. Midland Co. will supply one-gram juvenile shrimp to contract growers, who raise the shrimp to market size and sell them back to Midland, which then pushes them to market.

Kimlee said the company is open to producing additional species down the line, but for now, is focused entirely on shrimp production.

“Potentially, it will help bring kids back home to the farm," he said, explaining that these sorts of contracts will allow farmers to diversify their production. "We see a lot of opportunity for that, and the Midwestern market for shrimp is a lot bigger than this facility that we’re building here can accommodate."

So far, pre-sales have mainly been to individual consumers, with customers buying between one to 12 pounds of shrimp.

“It’s been a lot of individuals so far as we prepare for this first batch, but we’ll start to pull in a lot more wholesalers, going to restaurants as we grow and then eventually distributors," Kimle said. "As we grow this facility and open future facilities, we’ll be able to target major Midwest metropolitan areas, from Chicago to Omaha, Kansas City to Milwaukee – there's 30 million pounds of ultra-premium fresh shrimp demand that's sitting there untapped. And that's the marketplace they want to serve over the next 10 to 15 years.”

Matthew Eddy, the director of agriculture education for the Iowa Department of Education, recently told the Ames Tribune that there's plentiful opportunities for the shrimp industry in the Midwest.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of our shrimp is imported from outside the United States," he said. “So the ability to grow it here is awesome, and so is the ability to have a fresh protein supply. Fish are exceedingly efficient feed converters, so there’s a lot of potential there to convert energy into a high-protein meat source.”

Midland Co. is planning on starting the final phase of construction at its current facility in early March 2021, Kimle said.

Photo courtesy of Midland Co. 

Reporting from Portland, Oregon

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