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US soy protein supplier targets aquaculture sector with new $45 million facility

Sep 06, 2019

The group, backed by a group of agribusiness investors, moves into commercial production after seven years of development work.

by John Evans

September 4th, 2019 07:00 GMT Updated September 4th, 2019 12:32 GMT

US alternative feed ingredients producer Prairie Aquatech is targeting the aquaculture market as it begins commercial production at its new $45 million (€49.6 million) plant in South Dakota.

The Volga site, backed by a group of investors from the agribusiness sector, has the capacity to annually produce around 30,000 metric tons of non-GM soy protein ingredient, traceably sourced in the United States.

Aquatech’s ME-PRO trademarked product was developed and piloted following a spin-out from a South Dakota State University technology project, a collaboration between an industrial microbiologist and aquaculture nutritionist focused on the use of plant-based protein sources in aquatic species.

The company has spent the last seven years adapting the technology to address some of the critical needs in the aquaculture industry, Prairie Aquatech CEO Mark Luecke told IntraFish.

“We tended to focus on aquaculture because we knew some of the pressing challenges the industry was facing: protein concentration, digestibility, things that could supplement the use of fishmeal … while allowing feed manufacturers to continue to make a profit,” he said.

Eyes on the Amazon

ME-PRO has been tested on salmon, trout, shrimp and marine species such as cobia and seriola (amberjack).

The company is now taking orders by the container load for its feed protein ingredient, conducting external feeding trials and sending out samples to potential customers as it searches for strategic partners interested in alternative feed ingredients.

One Aquatech customer, a trout supplier to US retailer Whole Foods, succeeded in replacing almost 100 percent of fishmeal in its feed under a formulation using ME-PRO.

Amid tight monitoring of phosphorus discharges in the United States because of environmental concerns, the company highlights its product’s phosphorus discharge lowering properties.

As Prairie Aquatech moves into commercial production, executives are particularly interested in the South and Central American markets, where shrimp and finfish production has been steadily growing, creating demand and opportunities for feed producers.

The company is keeping a keen eye on events in Brazil’s Amazon region, which led Mowi, the world’s biggest salmon producer to threaten to stop buying Brazilian soy for its fish farms unless the South American country curbs Amazon deforestation amid a surge in deliberately started forest fires.

“The timing for us to be able to help the aquaculture industry by offering an alternative to South American soy production is good,” Luecke said.

At the same time, he was full of praise for the stance taken by Mowi, as well as by feed Skretting, Cargill and Biomar over the Amazon fires issue.