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Jumbo shrimp farms touted as new agriculture industry

Michael Ziebell, left, general manager of the Tru Shrimp Company, and Brian Knochenmus, president and CEO of Ralco Nutrition, Inc., testify before the House Agriculture Policy Committee March 15 in support of a bill that would establish a shrimp production incentive program. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Corn in the fields, cows in the pasture and artificial harbors filled with millions of gallons of 86-degree saltwater raising “the best tasting shrimp the world has ever seen.”

That vision of Minnesota’s rural landscape may be closer to reality than it sounds.

Planning is already underway for a facility near Marshall that would cover several acres and produce 153 million shrimp each year. And those behind legislation approved by the House Agriculture Policy Committee Wednesday believe it could help Minnesota become a global leader in shrimp farming.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent), HF1120, which was referred to the House Agriculture Finance Committee, would appropriate up to $5 million annually for payments to shrimp producers. The companion, SF841, is sponsored by Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Finance Committee.

“We’re going to build a completely new industry in Minnesota,” Michael Ziebell, general manager of Tru Shrimp Systems said. “We have a chance to absolutely dominate shrimp aquaculture. Nowhere in the world has something like this ever been done.”

Ziebell told the committee Tru Shrimp’s enclosed 9-acre facility could annually raise 7 million pounds of shrimp . By way of comparison, the shrimp farming industry in the United States currently produces just over 11 million pounds each year, and the domestic market is 1.6 billion pounds – 5 pounds for every man, woman and child in the country.

Shrimp raised by Tru Shrimp will need to eat 15 million pounds of feed each year, and Ziebell said the company has found a way to use corn, as well as soybeans, in their diet.

“When people ask us, ‘Why Minnesota, why would we do that here?,’ the answer is really simple,” he said. “This is where the feed is.”


What the legislation does

Swedzinski said shrimp farming could help “redefine animal agriculture” in Minnesota, and HF1120 would provide eligible producers a payment of 69 cents per pound for up to five years. To qualify, shrimp farmers would have to begin production between July 2019 and June 2025 and acquire at least 80 percent of their pelletized shrimp feed within Minnesota or a 100-mile radius.

Ziebell said the incentive payments would “mitigate the risk for investors” and cited an economic impact study his company had commissioned from the University of Minnesota that estimated building the facility would create a $48 million contribution to five surrounding counties: Cottonwood, Lyon, Murray, Nobles and Redwood.

The study also showed that ongoing operation of the facility would contribute another $30 million per year and Ziebell told the committee similar facilities could be built in any part of the state.

Rep. David Bly (DFL-Northfield) is concerned the operation could draw down water resources in the area, given past shortages. Ziebell said a typical harbor facility would require 14 million gallons of water to fill but, once done, the company planned to recycle as much as possible since it would have to be converted to saltwater to raise the shrimp.

“We’re going to consume millions of pounds of Minnesota commodities,” he said. “We’re going create and retain, hundreds, and someday thousands, of jobs and employment opportunities.”


Action on related bills

The committee also approved two other bills Wednesday meant to help spur shrimp farming, both sponsored by Swedzinski.

  • HF1121 would modify the definition of agricultural land to include property, under certain size and zoning restrictions, where shrimp are bred for sale and consumption. This bill was referred to the House Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division; and
  • HF1655 would exempt materials used to build an aquatic shrimp farm and equipment incorporated into the facility from state sales and use tax. The exemption would take effect June 30, 2017. That bill was referred to the House Taxes Committee.

The companions, SF842 and SF1326, respectively, are sponsored by Weber and await action by the Senate Taxes Committee.

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