Two thousand years of aquaculture in China was revolutionized by one simplistic system developed by the U.S. soybean industry and supported with an investment by Iowa soybean farmers.
That’s the takeaway that soybean leaders celebrated while visiting the first Intensive Pond Aquaculture (IPA) farm in China as participants in an all-Iowa ag trade mission July 19-28.
Without a checkoff investment by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), that success may never have been realized, said ISA Director Jeff Jorgenson.
"With 40 percent of China imports coming from the U.S. the IPA system is going to enhance fish production into a higher inclusion of soybean meal in fish diets," said Jorgenson, an ISA director and soybean farmer from Sidney and member of the delegation visiting China. "The investment by soy checkoff dollars again will turn into more of Iowa soybeans being utilized around the world."
China has practiced aquaculture for more than 2,000 years. But it wasn’t until 2013 that aquaculture was paired with IPA technologies to create a system that produced healthier fish and uses fewer resources while being fed sustainable soy grown in the United States and other countries.
The ISA in partnership with the U.S. soybean industry funded research to develop the IPA system, which has been provided to China in a technology transfer. The IPA system has been proven to triple the yield of farmed fish in existing Chinese ponds while greatly reducing the environmental impact.
"Iowa soybean farmers were the first to sponsor this technology. We are very appreciative for their generosity and support," said Jim Zhang, United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) program manager for aquaculture in China.
IPA technology requires minimal modification to existing ponds and creates a zero water discharge system that increases yield with no negative impacts on the environment.
Water is diverted around the pond to keep it mixed. Fish are housed in concrete pens that have screens on the front and back. The circulating water creates a current that mimics the natural habitat of the fish while also removing waste manure. Other species of fish are contained in the ponds outside of the pens to feed off the nutrients.
The IPA technology also allows China’s limited water resources to be conserved and recycled. Excess waste can also be removed and used as fertilizer or biofuels.
"In 2013 when the project started there were only three cells. Now there are over 3,000 cells in China with the total construction investment, not mentioning the operational investment, is worth around $44 million," Zhang said.
The sky could be the limit for the new technology. Zhang believes the number of fish raised using the IPA system could double in the next five years.
"This technology helps to break all the bottlenecks that face China's aquaculture," he said. "Bottlenecks like labor, water, environmental and food safety."
Governor Kim Reynolds, who is leading the delegation, toured the site and fed some of the thousands of carp species raised on the farm.
"I'm extremely proud of the ISA to think that they were the original investor in this IPA. It is a win-win. Our farmers benefit from the increased use of soy, and these farms are reducing costs and expanding,
"It is a great example of what we want to see happen on the trade missions that we are a part of,” Reynolds added.
Karey Claghorn, Chief Operating Officer for the ISA, also toured the aquaculture farm powered by U.S. soybean meal.
"IPA has revolutionized the industry. It changed the way they could look at their in-pond systems," she said. "It allows them to improve water quality and environmental footprint. It was an exciting investment for us as it has worked out."