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Aquaculture an emerging industry in Iowa

Article cover photo
Carole Engle of Engle-Stone Aquatics, LLC told farmers they need to first determine if their interest in aquaculture is a hobby or if it could be a business venture. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

 By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer


It’s not a type of livestock that others would typically associate with Iowa, but growers here are looking at making their splash into aquaculture. With careful market research and siting considerations, it could be an opportunity that flourishes in the state, experts said recently at the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ (CSIF) aquaculture conference.

First steps

Before taking the deep-dive into raising tilapia, shrimp or another aquaculture species, it’s important to first consider whether the interest is a hobby or a business, said Carole Engle of Engle-Stone Aquatics, LLC.

“If you’re doing it because you really enjoy doing it, that doesn’t necessarily make it a business,” she said. “It depends on what you’re doing it for and who you’re doing it for.”

The aquaculture conference was co-sponsored by Iowa State University, Ohio State University and the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center.

To be successful in the business, growers must manage several things—financial decisions, management decisions, personnel, the scale and scope of the business, and especially how to produce the fish and do it well, she said.

Expert advice

That’s only one piece of the puzzle, said Brian Waddingham, CSIF executive director. There are also rules and regulations that apply to raising fish, shrimp and other species. As in other species of livestock, the rules and regulations differ from farm to farm depending on size, soil type, location and other factors, he said.

“Every farm is unique, so what (regulations) applies to you might not apply to your neighbor,” Waddingham said.

He encouraged attendees to call the Coalition for no-cost, confidential one-on-one expert advice in helping to site potential livestock barns—including aquatic systems.

“It’s important to make sure you’re following the rules and regulations before you get started,” Waddingham said. “It costs too much to do things wrong.”

Exploring aquaculture

Shane and Esther Black of Panora attended the conference to learn more about the industry.

“We’re interested in aquaculture and we’re trying to learn as much as we can,” Esther said. The couple currently raises vegetables but said they might be interested in aquaculture.

“We’re in the thinking stages because it’s a lot to process and we don’t want to rush into anything. Before we purchase land or anything, we want to learn about the rules and regulations,” Esther said, noting that the conference provided helpful information.

Aquaculture seems like a good opportunity, the couple said.

“It’s a good opportunity for young farmers. It seems like where we are, the land is being built up around us,” Esther said.

“It’s a way to produce more on a smaller footprint,” Shane added.

Opportunity for soybean farmers

Feed costs generally represent 40 to 50 percent of the cost of doing business in the aquaculture industry, according to Joe Morris, director of the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center.

That’s where Iowa soybean farmers may find an opportunity, said Chuck White, District 1 director for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

“We’re using soybean meal now in the diets of all types of fish and shrimp. Soybean meal is a perfect fit as a food source because it’s a great protein, palatable for aquaculture species, and very cost competitive when compared to fish meal,” said White, a farmer from Spencer. He also participates in the Soy Aquaculture Alliance (SAA), which is funded through the soybean checkoff.

Randy Souder, a farmer in Rockwell City, said the growth in the aquaculture industry is exciting.

“It’s another market for our soybeans,” he said.

Not only that, he said, but a larger pool of aquaculture businesses means less of a reliance on imports of fish, shrimp and other varieties.

 “We import roughly 93 percent of all the fish consumed in the United States right now. If we cut that a few percentage points, we’d see savings in the trade deficit and a greater demand for our soybeans,” he said.

See presentations from the aquaculture conference here.

For more information about the Coalition, visit their website.


Contact Bethany Baratta at

For media inquiries, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

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