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VeroBlue Farms puts fish on agenda

By Staff | Nov 20, 2014

-Farm News photo by Larry Kershner Cindy Reher, of Humboldt, uses her tablet to take a photo of barramundi in an aquarium during the Nov. 14 open house in Webster City. Reher is an adjunct instructor at Iowa Central Community College’s career academy.

By LARRY KERSHNER

“mailto:kersh@farm-news.com”>kersh@farm-news.com

WEBSTER CITY – Fish was on the agenda, as well as the menu, Nov. 14 as the newest industry in Webster City – VeroBlue Farms – held an open house that attracted more than 800 people.

The business will be raising and processing barramundi, a native warm-water fish from Australia, that has a reputation as one of the world’s the finest eating fish.

VeroBlue, in conjunction with Iowa’s First, an aquaculture operation in rural Webster City, is creating 150 new jobs in Hamilton County.

-Farm News photo by Larry Kershner MORE THEN 800 people attended Friday’s open house at VeroBlue Farms in Webster City. Enjoying samples of barramundi fish dishes are, in foreground, from left, John Sheets, Ron Keigan, Melvin Biggs and JoAnn Biggs, all of Webster City.

It is also seeking production partners to raise barramundi on a contract feeding basis.

The company has remodeled the former Beam Industries building that is best known as a vacuum manufacturer.

Visitors were greeted with an array of aquariums showing the fish as fry, fingerlings and at market weight, which is about 2 pounds.

They could talk with the four partners – Bruce Hall, John Wulf, John Rea and James Rea – to get information about employment and career possibilities, and sample the fish in several dishes prepared by members of the Iowa Central Community College Culinary Arts program.

Keith Driver, president of VeroBlue, said he expects the Webster City plant to be in full production by the second quarter of 2015.

A total of 216 90-foot tanks will be installed to raise the fish.

Matt Clarken, director of farm operations, said the controlled environment and feeding protocols will enable VeroBlue to grow the fish to a size in six months what would take three years in the wild.

He said all barramundi are males until 3 years old when some undergo a sex change and begin producing eggs, a process that takes about two years.

Clarken said the system does not have to worry about fish spawning in the tanks, since the barramundi will be just a half year old when they reach market weight.

At that time, the fish are euthanized on ice, to draw blood to internal organs rather than the flesh, preserving the taste. They will be processed the same day for local markets.

According to Hall, grocery chains such as Hy-Vee are set to buy all the barramundi it can from VeroBlue.

“Hy-Vee is looking for locally grown fish,” Hall said. “Ninety-five percent of all fish in the U.S. is imported. It’s second only to oil in (U.S.) imports.”

He said the company’s technology will make the venture sustainable as the barramundi will be grown in controlled environments, with quality feed, and the wastewater will be recycled as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

The potential is to market barramundi fillets across the nation, Hall said, “but we want to focus on Iowa.”

That focus includes recruiting farmers with the right size buildings and quality well water to become production partners.

The system would work similar to the integrated hog industry as producers lease the equipment from VeroBlue.

“Then we’ll supply the fish and feed,” Hall said, “and buy the fish from them.”

He said as the business grows in profitability, that success will be passed along to growers in a profit-sharing arrangement.

The company conducts business meetings at AmericInn in Webster City every Monday through Thursday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to explain the business arrangements to prospective partners.

Prior to Friday, he said, 54 potential partners have signed letters of intent.

Hall said farmers are being recruited since they already understand production agriculture, especially relating to livestock.

Driver said the process will look closely at a potential producers’ facilities and well water capabilities.

“We’re not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “It’s not for everybody.’

Caroline Maness, of Greensboro, North Carolina, attended the open house.

“There’s a need to expand farming in general to feed more people,” Maness said, who added she’s a Webster City-area native.

She said she’s impressed at how the fish are shipped live to states outside Iowa, with water changes at various intervals, depending on the distance.

“I’ll probably be an investor after what I’ve heard today,” she said.

Engaging the public

Driver said Friday’s open house was a chance to engage the community, to let them see what the fish look like, how they’ll be raised and to taste them.

“They’ll want to know if they can feed it to their family,” he said.

He said unlike other animal agriculture ventures there won’t be an odor issue and there won’t be a heavy increase in truck traffic.

He said the process will be all-in-and-all-out, so new fry will be hauled into Webster City and finished product hauled out of Webster City about every six months.

Kent Wagner, of Webster City, attended Friday’s event with his wife, Martha, and granddaughter, Jade Brinkman, 6, of Ames.

“We’ve heard about fish farming,” Wagner said, and wanted to know more about it. “But we wanted to be sure they (VeroBlue partners) know we are supporting them for bringing 150 jobs in.

“We want them to feel welcome.”

Ron Keigan, of Webster City, said he was on his second helping of the barramundi tacos.

“This is going to be a big thing for our city,” he said.

Bill Demuth, who is an economic development contractor for Webster City, agreed.

The economic impact will be felt beyond Webster City, he said, and into contiguous communities around Hamilton County.

Recruiting production partners from the farming class, he said, is another way to keep the rural economy strong.

“If you can’t keep rural Iowa strong,” he said, “we all lose.”

If hogs are down and fish are up, or vice-versa, he said, you can flip-flop the facilities.

However, he expects another benefit will be new businesses and services that locate in the area and grow around the fish-farming industry.

The company has remodeled the former Beam Industries building that is best known as a vacuum manufacturer.

Visitors were greeted with an array of aquariums showing the fish as fry, fingerlings and at market weight, which is about 2 pounds.

They could talk with the four partners – Bruce Hall, John Wulf, John Rea and James Rea – to get information about employment and career possibilities, and sample the fish in several dishes prepared by members of the Iowa Central Community College Culinary Arts program.

Keith Driver, president of VeroBlue, said he expects the Webster City plant to be in full production by the second quarter of 2015.

A total of 216 90-foot tanks will be installed to raise the fish.

Matt Clarken, director of farm operations, said the controlled environment and feeding protocols will enable VeroBlue to grow the fish to a size in six months what would take three years in the wild.

He said all barramundi are males until 3 years old when some undergo a sex change and begin producing eggs, a process that takes about two years.

Clarken said the system does not have to worry about fish spawning in the tanks, since the barramundi will be just a half year old when they reach market weight.

At that time, the fish are euthanized on ice, to draw blood to internal organs rather than the flesh, preserving the taste. They will be processed the same day for local markets.

According to Hall, grocery chains such as Hy-Vee are set to buy all the barramundi it can from VeroBlue.

“Hy-Vee is looking for locally grown fish,” Hall said. “Ninety-five percent of all fish in the U.S. is imported. It’s second only to oil in (U.S.) imports.”

He said the company’s technology will make the venture sustainable as the barramundi will be grown in controlled environments, with quality feed, and the wastewater will be recycled as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

The potential is to market barramundi fillets across the nation, Hall said, “but we want to focus on Iowa.”

That focus includes recruiting farmers with the right size buildings and quality well water to become production partners.

The system would work similar to the integrated hog industry as producers lease the equipment from VeroBlue.

“Then we’ll supply the fish and feed,” Hall said, “and buy the fish from them.”

He said as the business grows in profitability, that success will be passed along to growers in a profit-sharing arrangement.

The company conducts business meetings at AmericInn in Webster City every Monday through Thursday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to explain the business arrangements to prospective partners.

Prior to Friday, he said, 54 potential partners have signed letters of intent.

Hall said farmers are being recruited since they already understand production agriculture, especially relating to livestock.

Driver said the process will look closely at a potential producers’ facilities and well water capabilities.

“We’re not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “It’s not for everybody.’

Caroline Maness, of Greensboro, North Carolina, attended the open house.

“There’s a need to expand farming in general to feed more people,” Maness said, who added she’s a Webster City-area native.

She said she’s impressed at how the fish are shipped live to states outside Iowa, with water changes at various intervals, depending on the distance.

“I’ll probably be an investor after what I’ve heard today,” she said.

Engaging the public

Driver said Friday’s open house was a chance to engage the community, to let them see what the fish look like, how they’ll be raised and to taste them.

“They’ll want to know if they can feed it to their family,” he said.

He said unlike other animal agriculture ventures there won’t be an odor issue and there won’t be a heavy increase in truck traffic.

He said the process will be all-in-and-all-out, so new fry will be hauled into Webster City and finished product hauled out of Webster City about every six months.

Kent Wagner, of Webster City, attended Friday’s event with his wife, Martha, and granddaughter, Jade Brinkman, 6, of Ames.

“We’ve heard about fish farming,” Wagner said, and wanted to know more about it. “But we wanted to be sure they (VeroBlue partners) know we are supporting them for bringing 150 jobs in.

“We want them to feel welcome.”

Ron Keigan, of Webster City, said he was on his second helping of the barramundi tacos.

“This is going to be a big thing for our city,” he said.

Bill Demuth, who is an economic development contractor for Webster City, agreed.

The economic impact will be felt beyond Webster City, he said, and into contiguous communities around Hamilton County.

Recruiting production partners from the farming class, he said, is another way to keep the rural economy strong.

“If you can’t keep rural Iowa strong,” he said, “we all lose.”

If hogs are down and fish are up, or vice-versa, he said, you can flip-flop the facilities.

However, he expects another benefit will be new businesses and services that locate in the area and grow around the fish-farming industry.

The company has remodeled the former Beam Industries building that is best known as a vacuum manufacturer.

Visitors were greeted with an array of aquariums showing the fish as fry, fingerlings and at market weight, which is about 2 pounds.

They could talk with the four partners – Bruce Hall, John Wulf, John Rea and James Rea – to get information about employment and career possibilities, and sample the fish in several dishes prepared by members of the Iowa Central Community College Culinary Arts program.

Keith Driver, president of VeroBlue, said he expects the Webster City plant to be in full production by the second quarter of 2015.

A total of 216 90-foot tanks will be installed to raise the fish.

Matt Clarken, director of farm operations, said the controlled environment and feeding protocols will enable VeroBlue to grow the fish to a size in six months what would take three years in the wild.

He said all barramundi are males until 3 years old when some undergo a sex change and begin producing eggs, a process that takes about two years.

Clarken said the system does not have to worry about fish spawning in the tanks, since the barramundi will be just a half year old when they reach market weight.

At that time, the fish are euthanized on ice, to draw blood to internal organs rather than the flesh, preserving the taste. They will be processed the same day for local markets.

According to Hall, grocery chains such as Hy-Vee are set to buy all the barramundi it can from VeroBlue.

“Hy-Vee is looking for locally grown fish,” Hall said. “Ninety-five percent of all fish in the U.S. is imported. It’s second only to oil in (U.S.) imports.”

He said the company’s technology will make the venture sustainable as the barramundi will be grown in controlled environments, with quality feed, and the wastewater will be recycled as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

The potential is to market barramundi fillets across the nation, Hall said, “but we want to focus on Iowa.”

That focus includes recruiting farmers with the right size buildings and quality well water to become production partners.

The system would work similar to the integrated hog industry as producers lease the equipment from VeroBlue.

“Then we’ll supply the fish and feed,” Hall said, “and buy the fish from them.”

He said as the business grows in profitability, that success will be passed along to growers in a profit-sharing arrangement.

The company conducts business meetings at AmericInn in Webster City every Monday through Thursday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to explain the business arrangements to prospective partners.

Prior to Friday, he said, 54 potential partners have signed letters of intent.

Hall said farmers are being recruited since they already understand production agriculture, especially relating to livestock.

Driver said the process will look closely at a potential producers’ facilities and well water capabilities.

“We’re not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “It’s not for everybody.’

Caroline Maness, of Greensboro, North Carolina, attended the open house.

“There’s a need to expand farming in general to feed more people,” Maness said, who added she’s a Webster City-area native.

She said she’s impressed at how the fish are shipped live to states outside Iowa, with water changes at various intervals, depending on the distance.

“I’ll probably be an investor after what I’ve heard today,” she said.

Engaging the public

Driver said Friday’s open house was a chance to engage the community, to let them see what the fish look like, how they’ll be raised and to taste them.

“They’ll want to know if they can feed it to their family,” he said.

He said unlike other animal agriculture ventures there won’t be an odor issue and there won’t be a heavy increase in truck traffic.

He said the process will be all-in-and-all-out, so new fry will be hauled into Webster City and finished product hauled out of Webster City about every six months.

Kent Wagner, of Webster City, attended Friday’s event with his wife, Martha, and granddaughter, Jade Brinkman, 6, of Ames.

“We’ve heard about fish farming,” Wagner said, and wanted to know more about it. “But we wanted to be sure they (VeroBlue partners) know we are supporting them for bringing 150 jobs in.

“We want them to feel welcome.”

Ron Keigan, of Webster City, said he was on his second helping of the barramundi tacos.

“This is going to be a big thing for our city,” he said.

Bill Demuth, who is an economic development contractor for Webster City, agreed.

The economic impact will be felt beyond Webster City, he said, and into contiguous communities around Hamilton County.

Recruiting production partners from the farming class, he said, is another way to keep the rural economy strong.

“If you can’t keep rural Iowa strong,” he said, “we all lose.”

If hogs are down and fish are up, or vice-versa, he said, you can flip-flop the facilities.

However, he expects another benefit will be new businesses and services that locate in the area and grow around the fish-farming industry.

The company has remodeled the former Beam Industries building that is best known as a vacuum manufacturer.

Visitors were greeted with an array of aquariums showing the fish as fry, fingerlings and at market weight, which is about 2 pounds.

They could talk with the four partners – Bruce Hall, John Wulf, John Rea and James Rea – to get information about employment and career possibilities, and sample the fish in several dishes prepared by members of the Iowa Central Community College Culinary Arts program.

Keith Driver, president of VeroBlue, said he expects the Webster City plant to be in full production by the second quarter of 2015.

A total of 216 90-foot tanks will be installed to raise the fish.

Matt Clarken, director of farm operations, said the controlled environment and feeding protocols will enable VeroBlue to grow the fish to a size in six months what would take three years in the wild.

He said all barramundi are males until 3 years old when some undergo a sex change and begin producing eggs, a process that takes about two years.

Clarken said the system does not have to worry about fish spawning in the tanks, since the barramundi will be just a half year old when they reach market weight.

At that time, the fish are euthanized on ice, to draw blood to internal organs rather than the flesh, preserving the taste. They will be processed the same day for local markets.

According to Hall, grocery chains such as Hy-Vee are set to buy all the barramundi it can from VeroBlue.

“Hy-Vee is looking for locally grown fish,” Hall said. “Ninety-five percent of all fish in the U.S. is imported. It’s second only to oil in (U.S.) imports.”

He said the company’s technology will make the venture sustainable as the barramundi will be grown in controlled environments, with quality feed, and the wastewater will be recycled as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

The potential is to market barramundi fillets across the nation, Hall said, “but we want to focus on Iowa.”

That focus includes recruiting farmers with the right size buildings and quality well water to become production partners.

The system would work similar to the integrated hog industry as producers lease the equipment from VeroBlue.

“Then we’ll supply the fish and feed,” Hall said, “and buy the fish from them.”

He said as the business grows in profitability, that success will be passed along to growers in a profit-sharing arrangement.

The company conducts business meetings at AmericInn in Webster City every Monday through Thursday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to explain the business arrangements to prospective partners.

Prior to Friday, he said, 54 potential partners have signed letters of intent.

Hall said farmers are being recruited since they already understand production agriculture, especially relating to livestock.

Driver said the process will look closely at a potential producers’ facilities and well water capabilities.

“We’re not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “It’s not for everybody.’

Caroline Maness, of Greensboro, North Carolina, attended the open house.

“There’s a need to expand farming in general to feed more people,” Maness said, who added she’s a Webster City-area native.

She said she’s impressed at how the fish are shipped live to states outside Iowa, with water changes at various intervals, depending on the distance.

“I’ll probably be an investor after what I’ve heard today,” she said.

Engaging the public

Driver said Friday’s open house was a chance to engage the community, to let them see what the fish look like, how they’ll be raised and to taste them.

“They’ll want to know if they can feed it to their family,” he said.

He said unlike other animal agriculture ventures there won’t be an odor issue and there won’t be a heavy increase in truck traffic.

He said the process will be all-in-and-all-out, so new fry will be hauled into Webster City and finished product hauled out of Webster City about every six months.

Kent Wagner, of Webster City, attended Friday’s event with his wife, Martha, and granddaughter, Jade Brinkman, 6, of Ames.

“We’ve heard about fish farming,” Wagner said, and wanted to know more about it. “But we wanted to be sure they (VeroBlue partners) know we are supporting them for bringing 150 jobs in.

“We want them to feel welcome.”

Ron Keigan, of Webster City, said he was on his second helping of the barramundi tacos.

“This is going to be a big thing for our city,” he said.

Bill Demuth, who is an economic development contractor for Webster City, agreed.

The economic impact will be felt beyond Webster City, he said, and into contiguous communities around Hamilton County.

Recruiting production partners from the farming class, he said, is another way to keep the rural economy strong.

“If you can’t keep rural Iowa strong,” he said, “we all lose.”

If hogs are down and fish are up, or vice-versa, he said, you can flip-flop the facilities.

However, he expects another benefit will be new businesses and services that locate in the area and grow around the fish-farming industry.

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