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Prairie AquaTech exporting high-protein feed ingredient

Prairie AquaTech PrairieTech image (1).jpg
Production technician Jason Remerowski takes a sample from an evaporator tank to evaluate the sugar concentration in syrup. This coproduct is then sold to feedlots, where it is integrated into beef cattle feed.
Patented microbial process converts soybean meal into highly digestible, 70% protein feed ingredient.

A highly digestible fish, shrimp and young terrestrial animal feed ingredient produced from South Dakota soybeans is reaching a worldwide market, according to an announcement from South Dakota State University (SDSU).

Fish farmers and feed mills in Europe can now integrate Prairie AquaTech’s microbially enhanced protein ingredient (ME-PRO) made from non-genetically modified organism (GMO) soybeans into their feed formulations. (The European market requires non-GMO product.)

“We have the opportunity to sell our product to feed mills in Europe that can formulate feed for Atlantic salmon and other important species such as sea bass and sea bream,” Prairie AquaTech chief executive officer Mark Luecke explained.

He credits Sue Lancaster, vice president of corporate development and strategy at South Dakota Innovation Partners, for spearheading the process to get approval to sell the ingredient in Europe.

The value of the 2019 global aquaculture feed market was $63.8 billion, according to a Grand View Research "Market Analysis Report." That amounts to more than 40 million metric tons of feed, according to a 2020 global feed survey.

High-protein ingredients account for about 40% of the feed formulation, or 16 mmt, Luecke pointed out. Fish meal, the aquaculture industry’s gold standard feed ingredient, is one of the primary sources of protein for fish feed, with approximately 4-5 mmt harvested annually.

Prairie AquaTech is positioned to help fill that gap. Its 45,000 sq. ft. facility in Volga, S.D., can produce 30,000 tons of ME-PRO annually, which involves processing approximately 2.3 million bu. of soybeans, the announcement said.

Prairie AquaTech currently fills orders for its product from six continents and more than a dozen countries, including Mexico, Panama, Peru, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands and Indonesia. The non-GMO product is exported primarily to Europe. In the future, Luecke said, “We expect to sell as much as 75% of our product to the international market.”

Producing a non-GMO ingredient

Luecke emphasized how being in South Dakota and working directly with soybean farmers and South Dakota Soybean Processors makes it possible to have a source of non-GMO soybeans and soybean meal. “This is very unique, because a majority of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified,” he said.

Farmers sign up to be part of Prairie AquaTech’s certified grower network. “We work closely with farmers on seed genetics and agronomics,” he explained. “One of the big things in aquaculture is traceability. We want to be able to tell the story about ME-PRO starting from the farmer’s fields — where the ingredient comes from and how it is handled. The marketplace expects this; however, not many ingredient companies have the relationship with their supply chain to do so.

“We are also developing partnerships in different parts of Europe focused on different animal species,” Luecke added, pointing to the use of the company's product in feed for weaned pigs and companion animals such as dogs and cats. Being able to work with pet food manufacturers in central Europe may then help create opportunities with American companies.

Testing with shrimp

One of the challenges for shrimp production is the high mortality rate in the hatcheries. “When they are very young, shrimp are particularly susceptible to diseases,” Luecke explained.

Furthermore, shrimp and fish are often raised in ponds on partially enclosed coastal water bodies known as estuaries. These waters become filled with algal blooms because of high levels of undigested nitrogen and phosphorus.

“The nutrients in ME-PRO are highly digestible, resulting in a much cleaner aquatic environment,” Luecke said. “One of the things we really focus on is making sure the nutrients are fully digestible and do not end up as waste in the water. Clean water is critical to healthy animals and a healthy environment.”

In addition, Prairie AquaTech is working with several regional shrimp producers in the U.S. to create test diets that include its product.

From SDSU lab to marketplace

A patented microbial process developed by SDSU distinguished professor Bill Gibbons converts the soybean meal into a highly digestible, 70% protein feed ingredient. Gibbons worked with professor emeritus Michael Brown, a fisheries expert, to develop and test the formulations on different fish species through funding from the South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the United Soybean Board.

In 2012, Gibbons and Brown worked with South Dakota Innovation Partners to form Prairie AquaTech. Additional support came from the North Central Sun Grant Initiative, the South Dakota Board of Regents, the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.

“The vision for developing ME-PRO was built upon three fundamental values that apply to successful feed ingredients: responsible sourcing, high performance in animals and positive impact on the environment,” Luecke said. “Our partnership with SDSU helps us accomplish what the market is asking for.”

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