030518talapia

Home grown, farm-fresh tilapia and shrimp are now a Kansas thing

The AAA Ranch east of Cedar Vale is as landlocked as any other Kansas farm.

The Sunflower Shrimp Farm is a tidy little acreage near Oxford with no ocean in sight.

But no cows, pigs or chickens roam these spreads. Instead, their crop is seafood.

The AAA produces between 500 and 700 pounds of tilapia a week, raised without antibiotics or growth hormones in temperature-controlled Orscheln barrels inside an old Morton shed.
At Sunflower Shrimp, nearly 53,000 shrimp of all sizes jump in a dozen or more above-ground pools.

It once was unlikely, but it’s now possible to buy Kansas-grown seafood.

As farmers struggle to make ends meet, fish and shrimp may be the wave of the future for some.

“I think we will see a lot of people trying this type of thing,” said Rich Llewelyn, extension assistant for the Department of Agriculture Economics at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

“Some will work. The first ones will reap the benefits and others will rush in and knock the profits out of this. Remember the ostrich boom in the early 1990s that took off with a lot of people in our area? Everybody was growing ostriches and then the market just died. It started out, you could get really big bucks and people made a fair amount of money — but the last people in lost their shirts.”

The farm economy thrived during the ethanol boom years of 2006 and 2007. Farmers got good crop prices until about 2012, when the drought and the national economy caught up.

Now, farmers struggle with too much grain. As they look to diversity, fish might offer a way to bring in extra income.

“I don’t see a way out for the next year or two,” Llewelyn said. “In 2015, we had 2,000 farms whose net farm income dropped to $5,000 per farm. You will see a lot of people looking for other things to bring in income.”

Gone fishing
Late last year, the AAA ranch began selling their farm-raised fish.

“We were looking for something to grow,” said Carol Sladek of Cedarvale, roughly 80 miles southeast of Wichita in the Flint Hills. Together, she and Cynthia Stout sought out a farm and purchased it. “We both grew up on farms. I grew up farming wheat, milo and cattle. I ran my dad’s farm for three years.

“Tracking the penny to the profit, with nothing for labor, our wheat crop we put in came out with a $100 profit in a year. That was it — with 360 acres. How do farmers do it? How do they make it with huge equipment and pay for it when wheat prices are the same as when I was in high school and fertilizer is through the roof.”

The women, both in their 50s, wanted to find a way to make a living and still enjoy the benefits of farm life. They researched and researched — then used their farming skills of fixing and repairing to build their dream tilapia farm.

The old shed in back of their house serves as the tilapia farm. It looks like a farmer’s tool shed, until you enter the room with Styrofoam wall, which is a maze of barrels, splashing fish, pipes and running water.

It took them two years to build their operation. Initially, they had contracted with a company to simply grow fingerlings but the company ended up going out of business. And that’s when they decided to do a complete facility.

“To get into it, you have to have a lot of funds,” Sladek said. “Or, if you study and learn, you can build it.” They have spent more than $30,000 building their facility.

They have petitioned Congress along with other aquaponic farmers to include a section on aquaponic agriculture in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. The current bill’s programs relate to crop insurance, crop subsidies, agricultural research and conservation as applied to traditional soil farming. Kansas aquaponics producers want the farm bill to include what they provide, as well.

The women said they are seeing a cash profit.

Their fish farm is a web of Orscheln liquid barrels, PVC pipe and Styrofoam walls to help keep the temperature constant.

“You can’t just throw the fish in a barrel,” Stout said.

“You have to calculate the food the fish eat,” Sladek said. “How often you feed them, the size and quality and oxygen supply — then have a way to filter several things so the water doesn’t become toxic.”

This summer, they plan to put additional tanks above the tilapia barrels to grow vegetables and fruit — and allow the plants to serve as a filtering system — as well as additional income for the farm besides the fish.

The tilapia take six months to grow and sell for about $10 a pound. Customers have come from Tulsa, Wichita and the surrounding area.

“You can buy them for $2.99 a pound at Walmart but you don’t know what those fish were fed,” Sladek said. “Ours are fed Purina fish food. I wasn’t a fish eater before this. I didn’t eat fish my entire life. I tried one bite and was sold. They make the best 16-ounce steak — if you want that much.”

The AAA farm is negotiating a contract with a grocery wholesaler to sell their fish. Individual buyers who want just a couple of fish can call ahead to the farm or email to buy fish, which can be picked up from the ranch office or shipped to the buyer’s home. The fish can be purchased live or individually vacuum sealed and frozen. The farm also can ship live fry or fingerlings to help stock other aquaponic operations.

Shrimping
Near Oxford, Bob Daniels is in his second year of shrimp production.

Daniels grew up in Valley Center and went into farming as a career until 2012 when his father died and the family’s land was sold.

His father first gave him the idea for shrimp farming when he was a kid.

“My father always wanted to put catfish in ponds. He and I had gone fishing and were using a bag of shrimp we’d had in the freezer that had gone bad. And he told me ‘I think we can grow this.

“I asked him, ‘Why grow, shrimp?’ He said ‘You are going to feed the world.’ And I said, ‘How do I do that?’ He replied by telling me ‘I’m going to leave it up to you, son.’ And here we are 50 years later.”

The Sunflower Shrimp farm is located in a newly built Morton-type shed. Rows and rows of tanks line the shed. A filtration system rumbles in the background. Nets cover the tanks. The home-grown live jumbo shrimp sells for $18 a pound. No hormones or antibiotics are used on the farm.

Tour buses sometimes pull into the yard for tourists to see the shrimp layout.

Each 3,000-gallon pool is filled with water and 400 pounds of salt.

“We stock these tanks with about 3,500 shrimp per tank,” Daniels said.

It takes about six months to grow the shrimp to market size.

“When somebody comes in to buy, we scoop them with a net and they will hand pick which ones they want,” Daniels said.

Like the tilapia farm, Daniels is in the process of expanding.

“This is more than a hobby. You have to make a concerted commitment financially, intellectually and physically to do this. You won’t get into it for less than $100,000,” Daniels said. “With the kind of capital expenditures we’ve had, we have a cash flow profit. But because of our significant investment in equipment and buildings, it will take time to consume that — like in any business.

“I built this building and designed it so people could come out and see it. It is excellent for harvesting a pound or two at a time — not for large scale operations like if we wanted to sell 100 pounds or 200 pounds at a time. It is excellent for people to see how we grow the shrimp. I wanted to first establish this market.”

Some restaurants in Wichita — like Public at the Brickyard and the Hyatt — are buying some of his shrimp and testing them with recipes, he said.

He is planning an eight-building expansion to produce the shrimp on a larger scale.

Currently, he does not sell to grocery stores and does not ship. Many of his sales are drive-up individual customers.

“Our goal was to have 500 new customers in the first year,” he said. “We have doubled that and have a lot of return customers.”
Where to find Kansas-raised tilapia and shrimp
AAA Ranch, east of Cedar Vale on US-166 highway, 620-218-2535, http://www.tilapiafish.net/Tilapia-fish-AAA-Ranch-information.html. Call ahead for appointment. Customers can order by calling or emailing approximate pounds to be purchased. They can pick up the fish or have it shipped, frozen, to their home.

Sunflower Shrimp, 360 S. Oxford Road, 2 1/2 miles south of K-160 in Oxford, 316-293-6961, http://www.sunflowershrimp.com. Hours are 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays; and by appointment. Customers can drive up and hand pick their live shrimp.

Where to find Kansas-raised tilapia and shrimp
AAA Ranch, east of Cedar Vale on US-166 highway, 620-218-2535, http://www.tilapiafish.net/Tilapia-fish-AAA-Ranch-information.html. Call ahead for appointment. Customers can order by calling or emailing approximate pounds to be purchased. They can pick up the fish or have it shipped, frozen, to their home.

Sunflower Shrimp, 360 S. Oxford Road, 2 1/2 miles south of K-160 in Oxford, 316-293-6961, http://www.sunflowershrimp.com. Hours are 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays; and by appointment. Customers can drive up and hand pick their live shrimp.

Source: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article206583084.html

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