After 17 Years, Fish Farming Still Challenging

Yesterday on Inside Agriculture we heard from former hog farmer, now tilapia farmer Spencer Dean of TS Dean Farms near Louisberg, North Carolina. Dean started farming tilapia in 1996 as an alternative to hogs, and chose tilapia for its fresh water habitat and white flaky meat. When getting started, Dean says they built from the ground up rather than attempt rehabbing an old hog or poultry barn:

“If you look at the equipment that is involved, that is the largest expense. You want a fairly well insulated building. Its not easy to use an existing farm operation building that is just converted over.”

In fact, Dean’s fish barn was built from the inside out:

“I actually got my tanks down on the flooring and then built the building over top of it. The fish farm part was built before the facility was built.”

With the constantly recirculation water, Dean says they also have a viable waste product as well:

“During the process of cleaning the water, it’s a recirculation system of clean water over and over. In a days time, we will use 5-10% of our volume pulling waste out and the waste comes from the mechanical filters. That goes to a large storage tank and we pump that waste onto our pastures to grow grass.”
And on that pasture Dean raises beef cattle.

Dean explains that there was a lot of by guess and by golly:

“It’s an evolving business and not everything you produce has a market ready. The big gamble with fish is what will the market be? So many want to get into it, but I advise them to figure out where they are going to sell it first.”

With seventeen years experience under his belt, Dean says the business is still challenging, its just that the challenges have changed:

“The marketing of the fish is probably the toughest part and the price of our inputs keep going up. We are not able to raise the price of the fish to match those costs. With feed we started out paying about $400 per ton and today the load was $930 per ton.”


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