Superior Fresh expanding salmon farm in Wisconsin, looking at additional locations

Published on
August 5, 2019

Hixton, Wisconsin, U.S.A.-based aquaponics salmon and steelhead farmer Superior Fresh, which opened in 2015, is undergoing an expansion, with plans to boost its salmon production volume nearly tenfold over the next 24 months.

The project has an estimated USD 10 million (EUR 8.9 million) price-tag, which includes space to house fish tanks totaling 100,000 gallons in capacity, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“Over the past 12 months, we’ve raised 160,000 pounds of chemical-free Atlantic salmon rich in omega-3s,” the company stated in a LinkedIn post earlier this month. “Within 24 months, we’re set to bump that total up to 1.5 MILLION pounds per year!”

Superior Fresh is an aquaponics facility specializing in growing greens, Atlantic salmon, and steelhead. The facility is situated on a 720-acre native restoration property nestled in the Coulee region of the Midwestern state. It is owned by Todd Wanek, the CEO of Ashley Furniture, who has already invested an estimated USD 17 million (EUR 15.2 million) in the facility, according to the State Journal.

“Our harvests this year have continued without a hitch for both Atlantic salmon and steelhead, as we’ve consistently placed fish in the market every week at a mean size of about four [kilograms] and three [kilograms], respectively,” Superior Fresh Chief Science Officer Steven Summerfelt told SeafoodSource.

The company is currently producing approximately 200,000 pounds of Atlantic salmon and steelhead annually, Summerfelt said, noting that the expansion won’t mean additional staff hires.

“We have an excellent fish house team, which we have been slowly expanding and continuously train. This existing team can meet our fish house management requirements during our expansion to approximately 1.5 million pounds per year. We currently employ four to five in the fish house and expect to add another two technicians to help with the upcoming increase in fish harvest and processing requirements,” he said. “The majority of fish house staff time is spent on completing routine SOP’s plus weekly harvesting and processing tasks.”

Aquaponics is systems are a combination of fish and plant production using aquaculture and hydroponics systems, aquaponics is moving from the realm of experimental to commercial, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The growing popularity of aquaponics has prompted some analyses of the economics of these systems. The few studies developed to date show good potential for aquaponically produced vegetables to be profitable, with the fish portion possibly breaking even or incurring a net loss, according to a 2015 Southern Region Aquaculture Center (SRAC). 

“Premium prices in high-end markets will be necessary for aquaponically produced vegetables and fish to be profitable,” University of Florida’s Carole Engle wrote in the SRAC paper. “Additional costs and risks associated with these complex systems must be analyzed carefully before investing in aquaponics.”

Superior Fresh lettuce is sold at Kwik Trip gas stations across Wisconsin. The farm’s living butterhead lettuce and baby spring mix is also available in more than 600 stores throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the company’s washed leaf lettuce mixes are available at more than 30 stores throughout Wisconsin.

“In addition, our nearly six acres of greenhouses can produce up to two million pounds of leafy greens annually, depending on our production mix, e.g., baby greens versus head lettuce,” Summerfelt said. “Greenhouse production doubled in 2019 and – based on current construction activities – will more than double again in 2020. Thus, we continue to hire exceptional staff to expand our greenhouse team.”

In July 2018, De Pere, Wisconsin-based Festival Foods, which operates 28 stores, began selling Superior Fresh’s farmed salmon in all its stores in time for the Independence Day holiday (4 July). Superior is able to deliver salmon to stores within 48 hours post-harvest, according to the company’s website. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program rates Superior Fresh’s salmon a “Best Choice,” according to the supplier

“We are excited to offer such a fresh product to people right here in the Midwest,” Superior Fresh said on its Facebook page in 2018.

Summerfelt told the Wisconsin State Journal that Superior Fresh also begun initial plans to expand into even larger facilities on the U.S. East and West Coasts “that could each be more than twice the size of the operation in Wisconsin and bring locally grown salmon and greens within reach of millions more people.”

“We have great food, a great team and a production facility that can be (replicated) across the country,” Summerfelt told the State Journal. “We’ve developed technology to work within the regulatory framework. We have zero surface water discharge and that’s a very powerful statement.”

Photo courtesy of Superior Fresh

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