A hog production facility idled for economic reasons is back in production. However, there are sounds of splashes and not squeals coming from the farm operation near Webster City. The business, called Iowa's First, has taken a proactive approach to circumventing the losses in livestock production due to economic changes by moving into fish farming.
Farmers Mark and Jeff Nelson are producing hybrid striped bass in their unused hog facilities. The former hog barns now hold 18 large tanks, each tank is 10,000-gallons, for raising fish. The feed delivery, insulated buildings, floor drains, effluent pond and other infrastructure used in hog production translate well into aquaculture, according to Allen Pattillo, aquaculture specialist with Iowa State University Extension.
Cousins and long-time business partners, the Nelsons began raising hybrid striped bass in an aquaculture system on their Hamilton County farm about a year ago. Their farm-raised fish enterprise began after several years of research and considering several ideas of how to use a group of former sow farrowing barns. After deciding fish farming might work, the Nelsons spent two years looking at other aquaculture farms across the county to get ideas for their system. "It's been an interesting venture," says Jeff Nelson. "There are so many different ideas as to how to raise fish on a commercial scale on a farm. There's nothing standard in terms of method and systems."
ISU's Pattillo says, "I'm receiving more calls all the time from people wanting to know how to get involved in aquaculture. Iowa's First is generating farmer interest and economic development interest in Iowa. Farmers around Iowa with empty pork production facilities are looking for ways to turn them into profitable business ventures."