The product will be fed to prawns and tested for efficacy ahead of commercialization.
Initially developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the feed was upscaled by Ridley following a partnership struck in 2013 with the research major.
CSIRO laboratory trials showed the patented product, derived from a marine microbial process, acted as a metabolic stimulant when included in prawn feed diets; permitting the animal to utilize feed more effectively and therefore grow faster with less feed. Ridley affirmed these findings with small-scale feed trials last year in Australia using Novacq feed produced at its New South Wales Yamba plant.
Tim Hart, CEO of Ridley Corporation, said expanding production of Novacq into Thailand and commencing trials in the Asian market was an exciting project the company had been working on for a while that would help get the feed closer to commercialization.
“We’re not commercialized yet, but we’re running bigger size trials,” he told FeedNavigator.
“We’re on a five-year commercialization process - we’ve done a lot of work on re-engineering how we produce the product…Our next bit of time will be spent looking at the feed’s efficacy.”
The smaller-scale trials in Australia had already proven fruitful, he said, with results from Queensland-based Australian Prawn Farms indicating a 37% improvement in prawn survival rate compared to control feeds.
“We’re doing the same kind of tests in Thailand – looking at survival and weight gain – and if we get similar results, we’ll have a lot more confidence on the efficacy of this and we’ll be looking to commercialize in the next 18 months.”
Upscaling trials and production
In Thailand, Hart said Novacq was being produced across 14 ponds totaling 10.9 hectares at the Sureerath Prawn Farm in Chanthaburi – an eastern province of Thailand. The raw Novacq material was then being manufactured into pellets at an adjacent mill in which Ridley had secured a 49% stake.
He said the plan was to run trials at the Sureerath Prawn Farm itself with the final feed and conditions in the country would prove very favorable to successful feed trials.
“It’s probably a better climate for us here – it’s better for prawns and better for Novacq… Water temperature is important and the advantage in Thailand is you can grow more crops, more consistently through the year because you tend to get dry and warm or wet and warm weather.”
In addition, he said Thailand prawn producers had three harvest cycles instead of one like Australia because of the climate, which would be helpful in achieving more trial results, quicker.
“There are always challenges going into another country, but from a production process point of view, it’s been good.”
Hart said it had also been easier securing pond space in Thailand versus Australia where options were limited to a very narrow band on the east coast with strict environmental conditions due to the proximity to the Great Barrier Reef.
Pellets, blends and mixes
Hart said Ridley’s eventual goal was to sell Novacq to Thailand’s numerous prawn producers and so running operations out of that market was ideal.
“It’s all about scale - in Thailand, you’ve got a much bigger prawn industry, much more availability of ponds and it’s close to source.”
The company, he said, initially planned to sell Novacq feed pellets to Thai prawn producers but may also consider developing premixes and blends that included other substrates like vitamins and minerals.
“We don’t have aspirations to just be just a massive feed miller, so the question is – do we give straight Novacq or a blend and mix? These are the questions we’re asking.”
Novacq in Ecuador?
Asked if Ridley would sell the Thai-produced feed elsewhere in the world, Hart said it was a possibility, particularly to other parts of Asia.
“Can we export from Thailand to other jurisdictions? Yes, we can. We just need to find out how easy that is to do. If it’s difficult, we have no option, but if it’s not difficult we may use this as a center of excellence.”
Further down the track, Hart said Ridley would be setting up a third Novacq production site to upscale supply and expand reach even more.
“It’s more likely to be somewhere else in Asia. Shrimp is grown in a very narrow band across the world – a lot in Asia, some in the Middle East and some in Central America – so, you’re options are really restricted to those sorts of markets. Ecuador is an interesting country; I wouldn’t rule that market out.”