New N.Y. farm strives to raise ‘pure’ tilapia
If the goal of Continental Organics is to produce the purest form of tilapia available, then the company is well on its way.
The New Windsor, N.Y.-based company runs a 110,000-pound capacity tilapia farm that utilizes only certified organic plant-based feed and raises tilapia without the use of antibiotics and methyltestosterone, a sex change hormone.
“We believe that the use of methyltestosterone in aquaculture production will be the mercury contamination issue of the future,” said Michael Finnegan, CEO of Continental Organics (pictured on left; on right is General Manager Kevin Ferry).
In addition, Continental’s aquaponics system — which uses around 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture — completely recycles the water the fish are raised in for use in growing its hydroponic produce. The greenhouse plants, in turn, naturally filter the water along with a biofilter, and the cleaned, re-circulated water returns to the fish tanks. Continental’s fish waste is also composted, for use on its outdoor organic gardens and for sale.
“It is sustainable food production at its best, in a completely closed system that produces fish, vegetables and organic compost,” said Finnegan.
After opening about eight months ago, Continental Organics expects to have around 100,000 full-sized tilapia available for sale in October. Continental will also harvest smaller sizes of tilapia this summer, to sell to a “niche” ethnic market in New York City.
While Continental executives plan to sell the whole fish via wholesalers, interest from Hudson Valley-based restaurants and stores may alter their plans.
“We have had local restaurateurs ask about it and ask when they can put it on the menu. We also have interest from high-end grocery store and natural food chains, so we may be able to sell locally,” said Finnegan. Executives with the Culinary Institute of America, which already buys produce from Continental Organics, have also expressed interest in buying the company’s tilapia, he added.
Since there are no standards in place yet for certified organic farmed fish in the United States, Continental executives plan to seek organic certification for its tilapia from an international body. While the cost of organic feed and not using methyltestosterone and antibiotics has tripled Continental’s production costs, the company does not plan to increase its tilapia prices to match the costs.
“Other companies have huge transportation costs that we don’t have, so the price will be even or somewhat higher,” said Finnegan.
Editor’s note: Finnegan is one of three aquaculture professionals leading a five-day course on recirculating aquaculture, hydroponics and aquaponics in July. E-mail Cornell University’s Michael Ben Timmons for more information.