BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — As trū Shrimp Company announced a new research partnership at the Brookings Research Park, KELOLAND News is looking back at the company’s history and why exactly a shrimp company is constructing facilities more than 1,700 miles from the nearest ocean.
The company promises to revolutionize the shrimp industry by creating a new source for the country to get fresh shrimp from inside its borders. Thursday’s announcement is a partnership agreement with South Dakota State University to look at how to repurpose waste from the shrimp.
In 2014, Minnesota-based Ralco acquired the patents for a new approach to land-based shrimp production. The technology was developed by Texas A&M University.
What is it? Basically, the technology that trū Shrimp calls Tidal Basin™ grows the shrimp in a controlled environment that recreates a natural ocean current, allowing the shrimp to thrive. In addition, the technology allows the facility to create a clean environment for the shrimp.
The company built a pilot research center in Balaton, Minnesota. The technology would make a raceway system that can produce 1 million pounds of shrimp per acre of water during a year.
At the time of the announcement, Michael Ziebell, who is now the president and CEO of trū Shrimp, said that harvesting shrimp in the oceans had reached its limits.
“Shrimp ponds are currently struggling with disease and the oceans are rising which is silting in existing shrimp ponds and the cost of transporting shrimp a third of the way around the world is extremely high,” Ziebell said. “The super-intensive raceway system provides us with great competitive advantage. We will be able to grow shrimp in a confined environment, with a greater ability to control disease and provide a predictable supply of fresh shrimp. There is nothing better than to be able to change the rules in an industry.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, one of the top imports by volume for the United States is shrimp.
94 percent of shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported from overseas. According to trū Shrimp, only 1 percent of the imported shrimp is inspected by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Balaton facility, located south of Marshall, was the first step to scale-up the project from an educational research idea to a commercial operation.
The company also partnered with Marshall-based Schwan’s Company, which took a minority stake in trū Shrimp.
It started with the announcement of a production facility in Luverne and a hatchery in Marshall, Minnesota. The $50 million production operation in southwest Minnesota was expected to produce more than 8 million pounds of shrimp annually.
The company also planned to build a training facility in Balaton for workers.
The construction plans were finalized in November 2018.
However that all changed in early 2019 when a Minnesota environmental rule prevented the plant from opening in Luverne. The rule related to water discharge would have delayed construction for one to three years.
Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian called it “a gun shot.”
Choosing South Dakota instead
That rule only impacted Minnesota, so the company began looking out-of-state to build the facility.
It chose Madison, South Dakota, in January 2019.
“We need water and the Lewis and Clark pipeline is a piece of that puzzle. We need natural gas and you have a major artery running right through the city. And then we have gravy. And this gravy is the opportunity zone that the property sits in,” Ziebell said.
The company said the facility will employ 120 people at its Madison facility.
The announcement came on Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s (R-SD) last full day in office.
“I’m very objective about this. It’s the best place to do business,” Daugaard said.
Ziebell told KELOLAND News in January that once the Minnesota rule was resolved, Luverne and other Minnesota sites would be considered.
“We think of ourselves not as a Minnesota company or South Dakota company. We think of ourselves as upper Midwest. We’re going to build multiple harbors across the Midwest,” Ziebell said.
The Madison facility was supposed to break ground in 2019, but has yet to do so. It’s estimated to cost more than $300 million to build.
Daugaard’s administration made a $5.5 million loan from the future fund in late 2018 to Lake Area Improvement Corporation.
Company officials said Thursday that they are still actively trying to raise funds.
“If I had my way, we would break ground in 2020,” Ziebell said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to get there.”
This is not aquaponics
Similar technology has been in the news, after a KELOLAND News investigation. However, Global Aquaponics is different. The idea by that fraudulent company was to combine fish farming with growing plants in water instead of soil.
This technology is different and backed by companies with long histories. Ralco Agriculture has been in business since 1971 and produces feed ingredients, animal nutrition, animal health products, soil and plant health and food safety systems.
The man who developed the technology, Dr. Addison Lawrence, began looking at farming shrimp in the early 1960s. He retired from Texas A&M University in 2015 after 38 years and joined trū Shrimp. The 83-year-old has since retired from the company.
Now, in addition to the projected Madison location, Ziebell says one of the first research projects they will be working on in Brookings involves the shredded shells of the shrimp.
“That shell has a very valuable natural polymer in it called chitin, and that chitin can be further processed into chitosan and that chitosan is a multi-billion dollar compound,” Ziebell said. “The way we grow the shrimp, absolutely perfect water conditions, consistent diet, consistent environment, their water habitat, everything that we do, leads to the fact that our molt tissue is pristine.”
But that’s not all.
“Another one is that our waste stream, the fecal matter, the uneaten feed, we are determined to turn it into terrestrial feed,” Ziebell said.