BALATON, Minn. (WCCO) — We could soon see a shrimp invasion in the walleye state.
Minnesota-based Tru Shrimp, a division of Ralco, is building one of the largest shrimp facilities in the world.
Balaton is a town of about 600, where neighbors know each other, and routine is revered.
But behind the doors of the old school, a new phenomenon is rising to the surface — one that even Forrest Gump himself would be proud of.
“When you mention that you are working on shrimp, they go what? It always brings a smile,” said Michael Ziebell, CEO of Tru Shrimp.
What they are doing is bringing a first-of-its-kind harvest to farm country. A couple years ago, Texas A & M University invited companies from around the world to bid on a patent for an indoor shrimp facility.
“Out of 30 companies, Texas A & M chose Ralco,” said Ziebell.
And as out of place as this may seem, there is a good reason why a Minnesota company and town were picked to grow shrimp 1,200 miles from the Gulf.
“The primary ingredient of their feed is protein. And of course we get the proteins from soy. And we are also the first to feed corn to shrimp,” said Ziebell.
Since January of 2015, Tru Shrimp has been perfecting the technology. Feeding shrimp a cocktail of proteins and growing them in 12 inches of water. All while maintaining the right temperature, salinity and chemistry, and doing it all in the former school building where Chairman Brian Knochenmus was once a student.
“There is no doubt that this place continues to be a place of learning,” said Knochenmus.
Tru Shrimp is already expanding their training facility in Balaton. And then they’ll build a full-size production Harbor in nearby Luverne, capable of producing over 8 million pounds of shrimp, which will then be processed at a Schwann’s plant in Marshall.
“Balaton, Minnesota, Luverne, Minnesota, Marshall, Minnesota, that’s the epicenter of the project where it will have all begun, but there is no way we can limit this to just SW Minnesota or Minnesota itself,” said Knochenmus.
Countries like Cameroon, Kuwait, and Germany have all expressed an interest Minnesota shrimping. Right now, 80 percent of the shrimp we eat in the U.S. comes from Southeast Asia, and disease has hurt the supply. A controlled, indoor environment stressing bio-security and by-products could help the industry make a splash here.
“We can certainly provide all their environment and nutrition to be happy and healthy and of course, very tasty,” said Knochenmus.
After all, who would have thought that one of the biggest things to come to Balaton was shrimp?
“I’ve had the privilege of working in business for over 40 years and I can tell you, quite honestly, it is the most exciting project I’ve ever had the opportunity to work on,” said Ziebell.
When construction is completed, Tru Shrimp will have one of the largest aquaculture installations in the world.
They will be ready to start selling commercial shrimp by the summer of 2019.