Researcher sees DDGS as potential savior of U.S. shrimp industry

By Holly Jessen | January 20, 2012

A Texas A&M University System researcher has identified distillers grains and the domestic shrimp industry as excellent bedfellows.

Addison Lawrence, a project leader and scientist in charge at Texas AgriLife Research Mariculture Laboratory at Port Aransas, Texas, explains that two things have hit the U.S. domestic shrimp industry hard. No. 1 is the extremely high cost of shrimp feed, which can add up to $600 a ton to even $1,500 a ton. Secondly, as the world consumes increasing amounts of farm-produced shrimp as opposed to wild-caught shrimp, the U.S. has lost 50 to 60 percent of its shrimp production to overseas locations. “Because Thailand, Vietnam and other countries in the tropics can grow two or three crops of shrimp per year compared to just one crop in the U.S., it’s hard to compete,” he said. “Unless we do something we aren’t going to have any [U.S. shrimp production] in another 10 years.”  

What does this have to do with DDGS? A lot, according to Lawrence. He’s the developer of the super-intensive stacked raceways, a shrimp production system that he says could revitalize the U.S. shrimp industry. In order to do that, however, shrimp producers need a new, cheaper feed ingredient to make shrimp production economically viable. “The use of DDGS as an alternative ingredient in shrimp feeds has the highest potential of anything else in the world,” he says with the confidence that comes from a 50-year career in aquaculture.

Over the last two years, Lawrence has studied the inclusion of 20 percent DDGS in shrimp feed and concluded that shrimp diets with DDGS performed the same or better than diets without DDGS. One of his studies was with sorghum DDGS and the second with corn-based Dakota Gold DDGS from Poet LLC. Beyond just being a cheap source of protein, the fermentation process leaves behind vitamins and other beneficial nutrients, he said.

The first commercial application of Lawrence’s shrimp raceways should go into production in Texas this year. Since the system is housed indoors, Lawrence sees a future where fresh shrimp can be produced anywhere from Chicago to Las Vegas. For every two acres of land, the system utilizes one acre of water and can produce between 5,000 to 12,000 pounds of shrimp year round. Of the feed needed to feed those shrimp, 120,000 pounds could be DDGS. “The potential market is there,” he says, adding that shrimp produced on farms is a $6 billion-plus business a year. “We can use huge amounts of this coproduct.”

The good news for ethanol producers is that DDGS could be sold for a premium into the shrimp market. On the low end, shrimp farmers could pay $600 a ton for DDGS and still save money. “My heavens, I could sell it for $900 a ton,” he told EPM. To get there, more research needs to be conducted so shrimp producers are comfortable using DDGS as a new ingredient. Secondly, it’s up to ethanol producers to convince feed mills that they have an adequate and predictable supply of cost-effective, high quality DDGS for replacement of fish meal in shrimp feed, he says.