RAYMOND — A local man wants to begin experimenting with shrimp farming early next year and later expand the operation if it’s successful.

Mike Ratchford has proposed an aquaculture operation inside an existing building on his 17½-acre farm at 1442 43rd St., pending county and town approval.

Ratchford, who buys and remodels houses in a partnership and has worked for a heating and cooling business, said Monday he will start with two 800-gallon tanks.

“I don’t know if I can make a lot (of money) with the 800-gallon tanks,” he said. “It’s more about a learning curve.”

If Ratchford’s system works well, he said he’d construct a building and eventually have 40 to 50 tanks full of shrimp.

His first effort won’t require a huge amount of energy, Ratchford said. An aquaponics system would involve both raising plants and seafood, but he doesn’t plan to grow plants, so he can use normal indoor lighting. And his first two tanks will be in a building he’s already heating for a workshop.

The trickiest part, Ratchford said, is the question of how many shrimp to raise in a particular volume of water. More shrimp produce more waste, and ammonia is toxic. Ratchford said he’s gotten water quality advice from a friend who owns a professional aquarium business.

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“It’s about trying to find that balance, about: How much can you put in there?” Ratchford said.

One of the biggest challenges about shrimp farming, he said, is getting good information because the successful producers don’t share their secrets.

His total initial investment will be less than $20,000, Ratchford said. The most expensive equipment will be a drum filter to remove solid matter and a biofilter to neutralize the ammonia.

It will be a closed system, Ratchford said, with no wastewater leaving the premises. He’s using well water, so he can avoid having to dechlorinate city water.

Ratchford said he’ll buy just-hatched shrimp from a hatchery; the juveniles are delivered overnight. He’ll buy food in pellet form. Each batch takes 90 to 120 days to reach harvest size.

He estimates he can produce about 4,000 pounds of shrimp a year with the two tanks and turn a profit. Ratchford plans to sell to grocers, restaurants, farmers markets and to family and friends.

He hopes to start his first batch in about early February.

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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