Considered one of the top three to five programs in the country, many people aren’t aware that Frankfort contains a unique and internationally recognized program within its borders, says Kentucky State University’s Division of Aquaculture Chair Dr. Jim Tidwell.
“It’s just amazing how fast aquaculture is growing and how much more environmentally friendly it is than other forms of agriculture,” Tidwell said.
Created in the mid-1980’s, the program offered its first course in 1990. An undergraduate minor in aquaculture and aquatic science was established in 1992, and in 1999 a master’s degree in aquaculture and aquatic science was added. Established prior to the College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems, the Division of Aquaculture was, for a time, the only program that addressed research, teaching and extension.
Still, today, the program remains unique.
“We’re unique in Kentucky in that we are the only full service aquaculture program in the state,” Tidwell said. “The legislature recognizes us as the leading program. We’re really the only one with services in the Midwest region. There are no aquaculture programs in the surrounding states, such as Tennessee or Ohio.”
Tidwell was raised in Alabama and attended graduate school in Mississippi. He’s been a part of the Kentucky State University’s Division of Aquaculture for the past 30 years. He began as a researcher and has served as chair for the previous 17 years.
A lot of the research the Division of Aquaculture has been focused on involves raising fish and shrimp. They’re experimenting with alternative feed. Being in bourbon country, distiller grains are being used as a produce source.
Researchers are looking at formulating feed that uses local ingredients. They are also looking to develop species that are better adapted to cooler temperatures.
One current project involves tilapia. As Tidwell explained, red tilapia sells in stores, but wild tilapia grows better. The aquaculture program hopes to create a hybrid that will be more sustainable.
Nathan Kring, 22, is a Frankfort native and second year graduate student in the program.
Working under the guidance of Andrew Ray, an assistant professor at KSU’s aquaculture research center, Kring’s main focus is marine shrimp, which are grown with algae and bacteria that not only maintain the water quality but also act as a secondary source of nutrition for the shrimp, Kring explained.
“I’d like to work at a hatchery or shrimp farm, doing production instead of research” Kring said.
The Division of Aquaculture also has an international reach, with many students attending who were born overseas.
Gagan Kolimadu, 26, came from India just to attend the school.
“Its one of the top five programs in the whole country. We’re doing world renowned research, under very able hands,” Kolimadu said.
Currently, Kolimadu is working with large mouth bass. KSU is taking the sports fish and trying to see if it can be domesticated.
Kolimadu’s long-term goal is to obtain his Ph.D. in America and return to India and use his knowledge to help agriculture in his home country.
Tidwell says the long-term vision for the program is to develop aquaculture as a viable part of the agriculture industry for Kentucky. He noted that most commercial aquaculture takes place in Asia and China.
Tidwell said aquaculture is the future of feeding people. For example, raising one pound of beef requires eight pounds of feed. To raise a pound of fish, it takes one pound of feed, making it much more efficient, Tidwell said.