George and Jami Navarro know a lot about farming hay and chile. They also enjoy a good seafood dish. While the two usually have nothing to do with each other, in this case, they have a lot in common. The Navarros are using their farming skills to cultivate something a little different: shrimp in the desert.
It all started when George and Jami, owners of West Picacho Farms, were approached by Tracey Carrillo, Ph.D., assistant director for campus farm operations at New Mexico State University. He’s also co-owner of New Mexico Shrimp Company with partner Rod Rance. Tracey started growing shrimp in 2011 as a research project and it bloomed into a business the Navarros couldn’t say no to. They have since moved away from traditional farming and are now the owners of Rio Seco Shrimp Company.
“I was very interested when Dr. Carrillo approached me and asked if I wanted to farm shrimp,” George remembers. “He knew I had barn space and he provided all the information. He thought it would be a good fit, so I decided to give it a try.”
George purchased licensing from Tracey and received all the planning and guidance he needed to build a saltwater shrimp farm. They installed tanks in the fall and his farm was ready to start growing shrimp in December. While the set-up system is impressive—not many people can say they grow shrimp in the desert—the food the shrimp are raised on really takes this operation to the next level.
While looking for ways to get the most out of cotton, Tracey and his research team began exploring cotton and aquaculture feeds. They decided on shrimp as test subjects because they develop quickly, an asset when collecting data. One set of shrimp received fishmeal diets while another set received gossypol-free cottonseed diets. Tracey and his team found the shrimps’ growth on the cottonseed diets was almost identical to their growth on fishmeal diets. At the end of each growing session, Tracey realized he had perfectly tasty shrimp to sell. And sell he did.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Tracey says as he prepares to harvest his first batch of shrimp in his new shrimp farm. “Everything has moved extremely quickly. I never really know what the next step will be, but there always seems to be a positive domino-type effect.”
With research and farming practices down pat, Tracey turned to Arrowhead Business Center for help with the commercial aspect. From there, the New Mexico Shrimp Company took off, both because shrimp is a popular food item worldwide—each shrimp eater eats approximately four pounds of it per year—and because it has never been available fresh in New Mexico. Before he knew it, they were building an insulated 9,000-square-foot metal building with eleven 8,000-gallon tanks and four nursery tanks housing nothing but water, shrimp, and cottonseed food.
“The shrimp taste very fresh and natural,” George explains. “They eat the same feed from the beginning to end and that makes a difference.”
New Mexico Shrimp Company, and licensed businesses like Rio Seco Shrimp Company, are proving to be profitable businesses and an earth-friendly resource. According to Tracey, 94% of the shrimp in the United States are imported, frozen, and contain preservatives and even antibiotics. Those shrimp come from the ocean, where natural resources are depleted to meet demand. Plus, it is impossible for the FDA to regulate all the shrimp coming in from other countries, where child and low-wage labor is common.
Interest in the business has exploded, demonstrating that inland shrimp farming, particularly farming using local natural resources like cottonseed, is the farming of the future. Tracey says he has had licensing inquiries from all over the world including Russia, India, and Turkey.
But this innovative business is having a positive impact much closer to home.
“This venture is helping two groups: the aquaculture group in the state and the cotton farmers,” Tracey says, noting that cotton farming has hit a few bumps over the years. He plans to grow 12,000 pounds of fresh shrimp annually to do his part.
For George and Jami, growing shrimp in the desert offers a new world of possibilities right in their own hometown. They will be watching the shrimp market closely this year to determine demand and they are excited to see their venture grow out of their more traditional farming experiences.
Want to grow your own shrimp?
New Mexico Shrimp Company can license their technology and processes anywhere in the world. Through their formulated feed made from high protein cottonseed and unique software, AquaDoc, they are able to help new licensees successfully farm shrimp anywhere in the world. Contact them at 575-233-5144 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit freshmarketshrimp.com/licensing for more information.