03/24/04 — Update presented on shrimp farming

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Update presented on shrimp farming

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on March 24, 2004 2:13 PM

Eating shrimp the size of a small to medium lobster tail may not be an inconceivable concept now that one company has developed the art of growing shrimp in a pond.

Gene Wiseman, co-founder of D.J. and W. Farms in Johnston County, had a successful year experimenting with shrimp farming and is working on marketing the product and creating a profitable business.

"I had no idea how huge this market is," he said Tuesday during a meeting of the Goldsboro Rotary Club at the Goldsboro Country Club.

In October, the business harvested 700 pounds of shrimp, each one weighing around an ounce. The shrimp were not as large because of a lot of rain, which shortened the growing season to only 72 days.

Wiseman expects to harvest between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds this year after a 14-to-16-week growing season, which is similar to the length of a growing season for conventional row crops. They can only harvest one crop per year.

A second pond will be completed soon. There are plans for two more ponds by the year's end and 15 ponds within the next five years, he said.

Wiseman works for Summit Productions in Goldsboro and started the company in 2002 with Doug and Johnny Barbee, who are tobacco farmers in Kenly. They are the first in Wayne and Johnston county to try shrimp farming. They invested a combined $75,000 to start the business.

Wiseman had the initial idea in 2002 after watching a TV special about raising shrimp in ponds. He met with several agriculture agents at Mississippi State University and observed a shrimp farming operation near the university.

He then contacted Mike Frinsko, an aquaculture agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Jones County. Frinsko provided information on how to begin the production process.

The men used the Barbee's old catfish pond in Kenly. They dug out the 200-by-400-foot pond and packed clay on its sides and bottom. They then built a 4-foot-high pier that extends 20 feet out into the water and is used to get better pH, ammonia and oxygen readings. They check the levels three times per day to make sure the water quality is just right.

The two-acre pond has an average depth of five feet, and they filled it with gallons of chemical-free fresh water from a nearby well.

Last August they placed the saltwater shrimp they purchased from Mississippi in the pond. The shrimp cost 6.5 cents each and they each weighed 2.5 grams, said Wiseman.

They spread cottonseed mill, which initiated the growth of microscopic plankton that the shrimp used for its first food source. The following weeks, they spread catfish pellets across the pond, and the shrimp fed on that until they were harvested.

The pond has a 15-inch pipe at the bottom. As the water is drained out of the pipe, the shrimp crawl through it and go into a 4-by-10-foot catch basin. They scoop them up with nets, wash them and place them in a combination of chipped ice and water. They are then processed and frozen, said Wiseman.

They plan to put more shrimp in the ponds in May or early June when the water temperature is about 70 degrees. Harvest will take place around September before the water temperature falls below 65 degrees.

Wiseman said there will be around 10,000 shrimp per acre in the pond. The average amount is between 15,000 to 25,000 per acre. He said having fewer shrimp will allow them to get more nutrition. He hopes that it will produce 10 shrimp per pound.

This fall they will start their own nursery and will purchase some PL, or post larva, around April. They will raise the larva until they are between a half a gram and two and a half grams. They will then be placed in the pond around the end of May. Raising the larva will reduce the cost of transporting the shrimp from Mississippi, said Wiseman.

Rotarians asked him several questions about the business' affect on the surrounding environment.

He said shrimp farming causes no pollution or damage to the ecosystem. To exemplify this, he said a turtle came into the pond one day and came back out because the water was too clean.

The business is still marketing the shrimp and is offering free samples to various merchants. The Rotarians feasted on the shrimp before the meeting.

The business plans to eventually sell the shrimp to high-end restaurants and country clubs for $10 to $12 per pound. Wiseman hopes that more farmers who have historically planted row crops will join in the new venture.