Published on 10/04/00

Georgia Farmers May Grow Seafood

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Photo: Joe Courson
They look like their ocean kin, and experts say farm-raised freshwater shrimp taste like them, too.

Hundreds of miles from any coastline, John Downer is trying to make sure shrimp lovers get all they want. The Webster County farmer is growing shrimp in fresh water in his homemade tanks in southwest Georgia. "It should take between 160 and 170 days," Downer said, looking forward to his first shrimp harvest.

Growing freshwater shrimp has caused a new wave of interest as farmers look for something they can grow to make a profit. It looks simple enough from an equipment point of view. But University of Georgia expert Gary Burtle tells farmers it takes a new way of thinking.

"You have to be a management-minded producer to get above-average yields," said Burtle, an Extension Service aquaculture scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Production Promise May Be Unrealistic

Burtle has been interested in growing shrimp for the past 20 years. Now, he has his first shrimp-growing demonstration at the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Lab in Tifton, Ga.

The freshwater shrimp industry has been hyped with big promises of as much as 1,500 pounds of shrimp per acre, Burtle said. But he tells farmers not to believe the advertisements. His research shows Georgia farmers are more apt to make about 600 pounds. "Prices range from $7 to $10 per pound at the pond bank for live, large shrimp," he said.

Consumer acceptance of freshwater shrimp could be a determining factor, along with consistent production at the farm, in deciding whether farmers make money growing shrimp. "Freshwater shrimp are very similar when they're fresh -- that is, to fresh saltwater shrimp," Burtle said.

Shrimp Farmers Must Be Marketers

Farmers getting into the fresh shrimp business must keep in mind that most shrimp come from Latin America and Asia. American producers compete on the world market. Burtle said farmers have to do more than just grow the shrimp. They have to market what they grow, and they have to promote freshwater shrimp. And many farmers don't feel comfortable doing that.

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Photo: Joe Courson

John Downer looks over his first "crop" of freshwater shrimp.

It's OK with Downer, though. He already has most of them sold long before harvest. Most of them, he said, will wind up on dinner plates in Webster County.

Burtle said the key question for any farmer interested in growing freshwater shrimp is the amount of shrimp they can produce. "Can you move from selling it to local fresh markets," he said, "and sell it wholesale?" He doesn't know the future of freshwater shrimp farming in Georgia. But Burtle expects high interest in the appealing enterprise over the next few years.