VeroBlue unveils plans
By LARRY KERSHNER
WEBSTER CITY – VeroBlue Farms has entered its designing phase to prepare for creating a urban fish farm that will produce 7.2 million pounds of fish when in full operation.
VeroBlue announced Jan. 21 its has contracted the purchase of 2,000 patented “opposing flows” technology land-based recirculating aquaculture tank systems, a three-year deal worth $100 million.
According to Leslie Wulf, chairman and chief executive officer of VeroBlue, the first 360 tanks will be installed in the former Electrolux warehouse facility on Des Moines Street, in Webster City. That work is expected to start in April, he said.
The balance of the tanks will be eventually distributed to a series of designated growers that will contract with VeroBlue to raise barramundi, also known as Australian striped bass.
Wulf said, “There are just shy of 100, a majority of them farmers, that have signed letters of intent with an interest in becoming designated growers. They range from those who want to do 24-tank farms to 96-tank farms.”
Eventually, the VeroBlue’s hub and grower network is expecting to produce 40 million pounds of fish annually.
In addition, VeroBlue is planning on expanding its fingerling tank system from 150 to 300 tanks.
VeroBlue is also purchasing an existing 25,000-square-foot speculative facility on the southern edge of Webster City, and converting that into a quick-processing and packaging facility.
Wulf said company leaders are opting away from using the former Beam building on Second Street, on the east edge of town, where VeroBlue held its November 2014 open house.
“It’s a 109-square-foot space, more space than we need.
“The operating and capital costs were more than we’d have been required to spend.”
However, in the future, Wulf said, “As we grow, we may a use for it, but as of today, it’s more building than what we need.”
Wulf said Hamilton County natives Jeff and Mark Nelson, who converted a former hog confinement building into an aquaculture business west of Webster City, perfected the raising of barramundi with the opposing flow tank system.
Investors joined the Nelsons to form VeroBlue Farms to expand the business on a large commercial scale.
“We acquired the global distribution rights to these tanks,” Wulf said. “Land-based aquaculture is a feed and water science business.
“We looked all over the world and deemed (opposing flow) is the best, most efficient, lowest-cost of operation. There’s no pumps, its all driven by blowers and you don’t have to use infused oxygen.
“So we went a little further and acquired distribution rights.
“So some large competitor can’t go to Fort Dodge and decide to build a 500-tank fish farm and compete with us by using the same tank system.
“If someone wants to buy tanks, we’ll sell them tanks. We sort of control that.”
“The long-term goal for the company is to perfect what we’re doing in Webster City,” Wulf said, “a hub and a grower network.
“The urban farm is the hub, and the grower network is the fingers off of that.
“Fast forward a couple years from now, and we have this (system) perfected, we think that around the country, we could have five to seven other hubs.
“Wherever there is water and a vibrant farming community, we can do other hubs. The other hubs may not be barramundi. As we grow, we may be doing other fish species.”
He said since the tanks were designed 20 years ago, there have been 12 species of fish grown in the tanks.
“Iowa First perfected growing barramundi in these tanks,” Wulf said, “so we may get to a point of perfecting other fish species, and we may get to the point where in Webster City, we’re growing two or three different species of fish.
After the company finishes designing the Electrolux building, designing the fish processing and packaging building and expanding the fingerling operation, Wulf said, “We’ll turn our efforts back to processing designated growers.”
He said the company will resume meetings with prospective grower in February or March.
According to IntraFish Media, which issued a report on Monday titled, “Beyond the Big Three,” barramundi appears to be the new fish farm species ripe for investment.
“It’s a flaky, white fish, high in Omega 3s, and low in Omega 6,” Wulf said, “and has a very high health content.
“It could be the replacement fish for several species currently being over-fished, such as halibut.
“It’s a high-nutritional fish with a good feed-conversion ratio.”
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