Ralco spin-out shrimp project raises $25m in US Midwest

Executives from The tru Shrimp Company tell Agri Investor their network of Midwest farmers and former ethanol investors will allow the Minnesota-headquartered business to leverage the region’s grain endowment, investor base and hunger for development.

The tru Shrimp Company, a spin-out from family-owned Ralco Animal Nutrition, has raised $26 million from a network of regional farmers, companies and investors to demonstrate the viability of shrimp-focused aquaculture in the Midwest.

Michael Ziebell, The tru Shrimp Company president and chief executive, told Agri Investor that investments have included $10 million from Marshall, Minnesota-headquartered Schwan’s Food and $5 million from Eagle Energy, a consortium of investors previously active in the ethanol industry.

The remainder, according to Ziebell, has been raised from individuals in increments of $500,000.

“These are people who want to see growth in the Midwest and want to invest locally,” said David Kolsrud, a development officer with The tru Shrimp Company. “They may be a car dealership or may be a retail store. They may even be in the medical industry; they may just be farmers, but these are all Midwest people who are investing in themselves because they realize that they need to help support their communities.”

Kolsrud said many of the investors he has approached to invest in The tru Shrimp company are contacts he made in the course of previously raising money for ethanol projects. That experience in ethanol, said Kolsrud, demonstrated that development projects in the Midwest have the opportunity to leverage the region’s grain endowment and draw upon local businesses in fundraising efforts while providing employment benefits to surrounding communities.

“We’re the only ones that can take three bites out of the apple,” Kolsrud said.

Learning the lingo

In 2014, Marshall, Minnesota-headquartered Ralco purchased patents underlying tru Shrimp’s  “Tidal Basin” technology from Texas A&M University and invested $10 million in an aquaculture research facility in Balaton, Minnesota. The patents are for technology that allows the shrimp to be raised in shallow water and had never before been commercialized, explained Ziebell, who described the patents as forming the basis of the The tru Shrimp company’s spin-out from Ralco in 2017.

Referring to its planned production facilities as “harbors”, The tru Shrimp company calls the tanks containing shrimp within those facilities “tidal basins” and a stack of tidal basins as “a reef.” The tidal basins at use in its research facility are 12 feet wide, 150 feet long and stacked eight high, according to Ziebell.

In addition to a feed production facility, said Ziebell, the Balaton facility has harvest and wastewater reclamation systems.

The tru Shrimp company is currently seeking an additional $30 million in institutional investment that would support construction of a production facility on which it hopes to break in Spring 2019. The planned facility would consist of five buildings, including a nine-acre building housing the main harbor, which would contain 256 tidal basins in 32 reefs.

“The best farms in the world produce 63,000 pounds of shrimp per acre of water surface per year in ponds that are generally one to three meters deep,” explained Ziebell. “Our tidal basins have an average depth of 12 inches of water and we produce 175,000 pounds of shrimp per acre per year. So, we’re nearly three times as productive as the best ponds in the world.”