Prairie Aquatech started with the understanding that alternatives to fishmeal were necessary to meet feed requirements in the aquaculture industry, said Dustin Schulz, feed development and sales manager. It was the brain child two professors at South Dakota State University – Bill Gibbons and Mike Brown.
Having developed a new way to process soybeans, the two have been working to commercialize the feed ingredient generated, he said.
“A lot of what people use for fishmeal comes from wild caught fish,” Schulz told FeedNavigator. “Since aquaculture has grown so rapidly, it’s using fishmeal more quickly than what wild caught can manage.”
The price of the feed ingredient has been increasing rapidly in recent years as demand goes up and supply remains static, he said. The ME (microbial enhanced) Pro feed ingredient was designed as a sustainable, alternative feed ingredient to mitigate the reliance on fishmeal.
“Sustainability is a big part of it, and to let wild populations recover, and to grow fish just the same, if not better, but without the expense,” he said of the product’s development.
The soy-based feed ingredient uses a microbial enhancement process to improve access to the protein levels in soybean meal, said Schulz. The process is in the process of being patented.
“We bioprocess the soybean meal and we can increase the digestibility and the protein numbers in it even compared to fishmeal,” he said. “Fishmeal digestibility is 78% and the soy product we create is almost 100% digested – it helps a lot with water quality and helps with food cost, [because] it doesn’t take as much feed for them to grow.”
The treatment can improve protein levels in the feed ingredient to about 70% from 50-52%, he said.
The group has been running feed trials that incorporate the protein product into low-phosphorus diets for multiple different species of fish, said Schulz. The main focus is on rainbow trout and salmon, but the company also has worked with blue gill, perch and some marine fish varieties.
The protein ingredient is designed to be included at about 20-30% of a diet, he said. “We can push those inclusion levels and still keep the solid results on health, but that’s something that we’re ironing out at the moment,” he added.
Prairie Aquaculture currently inhabits a research scale pilot facility that includes a boutique feed mill, aquaculture research room to test new feed formulations and a bioprocessing area to work on the soy, said Schulz. “It’s neat because you can really collaborate with other departments,” he added.
One of the challenges in past arrangements was the time needed to formulate a new feed or technique and then test the palatability, digestibility and run feeding trials, he said. Now the group can oversee all the stages in-house.
A newer and larger site also is in progress, he said. The location has yet to be announced but will either be in Brookings or Volga, South Dakota.
The new building will have the capacity to produce about 30,000 tons of the soymeal product annually, said Schulz. The project is anticipated to cost about $40m and start construction in spring of 2017, with production beginning in early 2018.
The company also has done some work looking at potential fish oil replacements, he said. But that work is further down the timeline.
With the move toward full commercial production, the company is anticipating producing about 30,000 tons of the soy-based protein feed ingredient a year, said Schulz. At that scale, it will be looking to market the product beyond the US.
Aquaculture has been growing annually, he said, but not all that expansion has been in the US.
“We all want to see domestic aquaculture grow,” he said. “We have a lot of [development] opportunities in the US – they’re growing and it’s very exciting.”
Additionally, the company already sells some of the soy-product in specialized feed for pond production, said Schulz.