Aquaculture pioneer uses soybeans to feed fish

May 28, 2018

This piece is presented by South Dakota Biotech.

Nevermind that it’s far from the coasts – South Dakota is about to make a significant splash in the aquaculture industry.

Prairie AquaTech, which uses a natural, biological process to convert soybean meal to a high-quality ingredient fed to fish raised commercially, has a $45 million expansion under construction in Volga.

Leaders say it’s a win-win for agriculture and aquaculture – using crops produced in the area to feed fish that ultimately will help satisfy a growing world’s need for protein.

Prairie AquaTech buys soybean meal from South Dakota Soybean Processors and enhances the protein for higher digestability by freshwater and marine fish.

“The global demand for protein is substantial,” said Sue Lancaster, Prairie AquaTech vice president of corporate development. “Fish are one of the only species where you can feed one pound of plant protein and you get one pound of animal protein. Aquaculture is our country’s second-largest trade deficit in the natural resources, so to add value to an already valuable ingredient is significant.”

The company was founded in 2012 following research that began at SDSU’s College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences.

“A lot of people have attempted to drive new ingredients into the aquaculture space to extend the use of fishmeal, and few have been successful for a variety of reasons,” CEO Mark Luecke said. “With the expertise we have on staff who have spent the last 20 years on aquaculture developing and launching new technology, we have assembled the right team to fix the problem.”

The new 30,000-square-foot facility is being built five miles west of Brookings, where Prairie AquaTech will keep its main office at the Agriculture Technology Center for Rural Enterprise focusing on developing other products for aquaculture.

Prairie AquaTech

The recent $60 million financing includes $45 million for construction, $10 million for operating capital and $5 million for continued development of new products.

South Dakota Soybean Processors is among several agricultural groups in the region that have invested in Prairie AquaTech. The company also worked with CoBank, which is part of the Farm Credit System, to help raise debt financing.

When it opens next spring, the new facility will take Prairie AquaTech from pilot-scale production to a facility capable of producing 30,000 tons of protein ingredient annually and more than double the number of employees.

“We have started the recruitment process, and we have increased our staff in the last six months,” Lancaster said. “We do a lot of training ourselves because it’s a unique process.”

Positions that will be available include opportunities in production but also other support roles. People have come to Prairie AquaTech with experience in a range of industries.

“Our positions are mostly on the production side, but there are a lot of other support roles required,” Lancaster said. To learn more and contact the company, click here. 

Lancaster, who also serves as vice chair of the board of directors of South Dakota Biotech, saidPrairie AquaTech is helping advance the broader industry in the state by adding significant value to soybeans produced here.

“The biotechnology industry is expansive,” she said. “While it can be challenging to stay up to date across the biotechnology industry, there is a lot of important work that is going on across the world and in South Dakota. It is encouraging to see data-driven decisions being made and important products being developed in our state.”

Prairie AquaTech has the potential to make South Dakota a significant player in the aquaculture arena, said Joni Johnson, executive director of South Dakota Biotech.

“We’re very excited by their progress and the anticipated market demand for their products,” she said. “This is exactly the sort of added value that bioscience can bring to agriculture, and it’s huge for us that it’s been developed here.”

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Aquaculture pioneer uses soybeans to feed fish

Nevermind that it’s far from the coasts – South Dakota is about to make a significant splash in the aquaculture industry.

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