When we travel to other countries, we talk with many farmers and probiotic manufacturers who swear by their effectiveness.
But often when we talk with researchers, particularly in the US, they disparage them as “snake oil” and decry their effectiveness.
So who should you believe? We explore more in this post.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria (plus their food) that farmers believe are beneficial to water quality will eat, thus increasing their populations in the water.
Bacteria are very interesting in that all kinds – the good and the bad – are usually present, but one category is usually dominant and the other passive or dormant based upon the environmental conditions.
If you’ve ever composted in your garden, you’ve seen this in action. If it ever smelled bad, that’s because the anaerobic bacteria – those that thrive in the absence of oxygen – have taken over. If it smelled fine, and was hot, then the aerobic bacteria – those that thrive in the presence of oxygen – have taken over (hint, you want the second kind).
Why do farmers use them?
Farmers use probiotics as a way to boost up the population of “good bugs” so that the “bad bugs” are crowded out. By introducing more of the good bugs through probiotics into a water system and feeding them to keep them healthy, happy, and multiplying, they can reduce the prevalence of bacteria that can carry pathogens.
The popularity of probiotics rose after epidemics started hitting the farmed shrimp industry, such as the Whitespot epidemic in Ecuador in 2001. There, many farmers swear by the impact of probiotics in improving their survival ratings and multiple probiotics companies have done very well ever since.
Why do some farmers/researchers not use them?
Maybe because the US has never had a large shrimp farming industry or maybe because probiotics are truly snake oil, a placebo that helps farmers feel better about the survival chances of their crops, but we find the researchers in the US generally look down upon the use of probiotics.
At the aquaculture conferences we’ve been to, we hear them say that farmers are welcome to use probiotics in their ponds, but there is no empirical evidence that it actually has an impact.
So maybe we have a case of quantitative vs. qualitative evidence? This is unfortunately fairly common in the industry where the experience of farmers and researchers disagree or there is just no clear consensus on what works and what does not, just many strong opinions.
So the jury is still out. If you run a farm and have had good experience with probiotics, no reason to stop! Maybe run a few test ponds without to see if there is any impact. If you haven’t used probiotics historically, try them on a few test ponds. See if they make an impact.
We’d love to hear the results.