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CropTalk: A Different Kind of Agriculture

March 2021

Published on Monday, March 1, 2021

Diversification. It looks different on every farm, but today it has become a common practice to stay profitable and maintain an operation. For some, it may look like a seed or chemical dealership. For others, it’s growing a niche crop. For one farmer in Iowa, it is investing in an unexpected sector of agriculture for the cool temperatures and saltless waters of the Midwest – shrimp farming.

“I look at an opportunity and say, ‘hey, try it; you never know where it could lead you,’” said John Hansen.

John operates a fourth-generation farm that includes corn (mostly for cattle feed), soybeans, hogs, and cattle. As if the livestock and grain operation were not enough to keep him busy, he also has a trucking company and hauls hogs and cattle long distance.

Looking for innovative ways to maintain profitability and being willing to take risks and jump on an opportunity, John, along with many other Northwest Iowa farmers, invested in a shrimp farm in Texas.

“The reason we picked Texas is because of the saltwater availability and the temperatures,” said John. “Shrimp need temperatures of 85 degrees in the water plus a high salt content.”

The Texas facility produced drug- and hormone-free shrimp and had a genetic line of shrimp created by the group’s researchers. The shrimp were housed in 32 different ponds protected by inflated domes that were 1,000 ft. long. The shrimp raised in Texas were sold all over the U.S. and worldwide.

To bring the shrimp to Iowa, John and a friend of his created a seafood business — Heartland Seafood. In addition to selling the shrimp, they sold chemical-free salmon, scallops, lobster tail, tuna, swordfish, walleye, and more, all purchased from companies on the East Coast.

“After eating enough shrimp, you realize there is a difference in shrimp — from farm-raised in India to those in the U.S.,” said John. “Ours are a little bit sweeter and crisp and just taste better.”

In 2017, as both the shrimp farm and his own business in Iowa were booming, Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas, damaging the shrimp production facility.

As the production side of the company continues to rebuild and recover from the disaster, John has had to shut down Heartland Seafood for the time being.

And even though they had to close their doors, John is still passionate about seafood and making great products available to his Midwest neighbors. That’s why John and his business partner began experimenting with shrimp dip recipes.

“We went through four or five recipes before we found one we really liked,” said John. “The weekend of the 2020 Super Bowl, we sold 140 pounds. We now have four flavors, including a spicy jalapeno shrimp dip.”

John is in the process of working with a large seafood co-packer to see if they can make the dip for production in grocery stores, such as Costco and Hy-Vee, so they can continue to bring delicious seafood to the Midwest.

“Seafood is just a different type of agriculture, but it is still farming,” said John. “We raise livestock, and we do everything the same as we do with cattle and hogs just in a different form,” he said.

Feeling a little hungry? Email John at heartlandseafood@gmail.com for more information on the shrimp dips and an updated production schedule.

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Author: Ashley Heyen

Categories: CropTalk, 2021

Tags: CropTalk, shrimp farming

Ashley Heyen
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