Myth or Fact: All Farms are moving towards Shrimp Farming Intensification.
I was recently in Ecuador at the AquaExpo 2018 and I was talking with a farmer about the global trend of increased shrimp farming intensification. He said, not so fast, in that in Ecuador, one of his friends just cut his stocking densities way down to 6 PL’s/m2 and was incredibly pleased with the results.
In this post, I want to explore some of what we’re seeing on the trends towards and away intensification.
What is Shrimp Farming Intensification?
Shrimp farming intensification is the process of stocking shrimp post-larvae’s in the grow-out pond at increasingly higher densities. Shrimp farming began at very low stocking densities with the shrimp eating the natural plankton in the pond.
Overtime, as technology, feed, genetics, and pond design have improved, farmers have gradually increased their stocking densities. At the same time, shrimp has gradually moved increasingly to a high volume, lower margin business (although the margins are still much higher than most other aquaculture species).
In general, the more intensely a shrimp pond is stocked, the operational costs for the farmer in labor and energy to run aerators.
Do More Intensive Shrimp Farms Make More Money?
In general, yes. In 2017, Carole Engle et. al. interviewed 85 shrimp farmers in Vietnam and Thailand and gathered data on all of their input and output economics. They concluded that in general, the more intensive the shrimp farm operates, the better return on investment the farmer gets both on capital and operational expenditures.
This makes sense, that even though the operational costs are higher, much of the costs on a shrimp farm are related to capital expenditures. Even though feed is 60% of the operational cost, this is proportional to the stocking density, so higher densities won’t lead to higher feed costs, but actually the opposite with higher opportunities for bulk discounts.
If More Intensive Shrimp Farms make More Money, Why Aren’t All Shrimp Farmers Intensifying?
The answer is that a lot of them are. Recently CP made waves by acquiring a hyper-intensive Brazilian Shrimp Farm. Farmers across SE Asia are eyeing higher stocking densities and those in the Americas are experimenting with them as well.
The problem is that higher intensification has some major drawbacks and risks. The first is that such systems are just more difficult to manage. Simply put, more can go wrong faster. The second is that with so many more animals in high concentration, the risk of disease is very high. Thailand, which was the king of intensification, learned this lesson the hard way during the EMS outbreak of 2012.
In the current environment of low global shrimp prices, some farmers are actually stocking less densely for a few reasons:
- Lower FCR. The farmer we heard of above had an FCR of 0.6! With those low stocking densities, the shrimp get a lot of nutrients from the local environment.
- Lower disease risk. With lower stocking densities, such farmers have a lower risk of disease transference from sick animals coming into the farm or from the outside environment.
- Higher survival. In general the fewer animals per square square meter, the higher the survival rates of the animals as they have less competition and can more easily share the resources the naturally occur in the pond.
As of right now, I would call it a myth that the entire industry is going to become more intensified. Shrimp farming methods have always been diversified across the globe and like a stock portfolio, this is the best method to ensure that farms can meet demand.
Low density farmers can operate conservatively and get relatively known results while those with higher stocking densities can gamble closer to the edge and reap the rewards when it goes well.
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