How did you come to work for one of the leading ingredient suppliers when at that time aquaculture was not a significant activity for the company?Biomin being a livestock company saw the opportunity in aquaculture and that it could transition its livestock concepts to apply to aquaculture.
We started in the sector as ‘a one man show’ with the thought that I would be supporting the existing sales team. It soon became clear we needed to expand and specialize in the aquaculture field if we were to succeed in this transition of technology. We had to develop a strategy in aquaculture so Biomin formed an aquaculture department. Since then we have been adding more aquaculture specialists to our group in the R&D department and also technical sales people in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, India, China and Vietnam.
That must have been difficult to try to establish a specialist aquaculture supply business starting with just a concept?As I said, when I joined Biomin the focus was on livestock. Then we started doing tests and carrying out aquaculture research in our R&D center in Austria which focus on biotechnology, but we also needed a center to do in vivo tests with the animals. To do that we needed an aqua research centre - which proved essential - and I was asked for a plan and that led to establishing our Aquaculture Center for Applied Nutrition (ACAN) facilities in Bangkok where we conduct trials and research with fish and shrimp. .
We had to go into aquaculture in the right way and this was my plan, we needed to develop our concepts looking at specific solutions for the aqua industry
Prior to this we were not seen as an aquaculture company. Also in the philosophy of the company and the research background I had, allowed us to focus on the industry from a research and development foundation and then to go into the field and apply our findings. We had to show what we could do. With sound research and development behind us we could propose projects and work with farmers and businesses to look and achieve solutions. For example, the most recent challenge is to help overcome EMS in shrimp farming, that is a big challenge and we are working on it to see if we can help the industry to overcome this constrain.
How important is research and the feed industry when it comes to improving the performance of aquaculture farms?Research is very important, but the impact of its results in the field are even more important. I’m a fish nutritionist and I recognize that in Asia, nutrition and feed quality have allot of room for improvement. There is a need for us to work with feed millers, to push for research outcomes that can be applied and can improve the performance of the feeds. With regard to feed mills, we’ve been focusing on inefficiencies and trying to develop feed additives that can improve profitability while improving nutrition and health of the animals. To a feed formulator additives are often seen as added expense, but we have to change this mind set and work with the industry to show that feed additives can be a usefull tool to create more flexible formulations and can improve the efficiency of the diets. Mycotoxin binders/deactivators can reduce the negative impact of mycotoxin in some ingredients, phytogenics and organic acids can improve feed efficiency and reduce pathogen challenges in the animal gut Enzymes can improve utilization of certain nutrients and anti-nutrients, free amino acids can improve the aminoacid balance in the diet.
The salmon industry is a good example of where concepts have been successfully applied and salmon farming is now comparable with chicken and swine production in terms of overall efficiencies. That’s not the case in Asia with freshwater species; only shrimp farming is comparable.
Without sound science behind production systems the industry is inclined to go from boom-to-crash. This tells us there is still a lot that can be improved – educating farmers to take on new concepts that enhance their performance is one of them.
What is the key reason for poor performances in aquaculture?In many countries and especially in Asia the focus on costs and “my feed is cheaper is a good reason!” Farmers still focus too much on price of feed and feed producers follow that, but they need to focus on efficiencies and outcomes. It’s not what feed costs, but what is the cost of production. How much does it cost me to produce a kg of fish? That means you have to look at more than feed price; you have to look at conversion, growth rates and the environment. It’s all about profitability and we call this ‘nutri-economics’ where you look at what is nutritionally required, what are the correct characteristics needed in the feed and how we utilize them to achieve maximum biomass gain? Then there’s the economics, the measure and maximizing of profitability. Profitability is mainly driven by crop yield and price of shrimp and fish sold in the market. By using simple economic modeling, it is possible to calculate feed value under different production scenarios. Sometimes optimization of performance and profit is not achieved when least cost is applied. Reducing nutrient density will lower price of feed ($/kg) but can result in lower feed efficiency and can increase the cost of feeding ($/kg fish produced), so ultimately profit is lost. . Then there’s the environment: if you create problems outside the pond that means you probably have problems within your ponds.
Can you give me an example?Excreted phosphorus is a good example. You need about 0.5-0.6 percent available phosphorus in a diet, but when you’re using cheaper raw materials that have high levels of unavailable phosphorus you will end up with levels of total phosphorun in your feed of more than 1.2-1.4 percent; this leads to more then 50 percent being released into the environment which can cause algae blooms in your ponds. Ingredients with phospurus in more available form or products that allows more phosphorus to be digested is what’s needed here. To improve the FCR we need to reduce the amounts excreted.
Take a 400 tonne/ha Pengasius farm with a feed conversion of 1.6. That farm will supply 640 tonnes of feed to their 1 ha pond. Considering a dry matter digestibility of 75 percent, it means that 25 percent, or 160 tonnes will be released as feces . Reducing FCR from 1.6 to 1.5 through improved feed formulation and digestibility will mean you’ll not only need less feed (40 tones) to produce the same amount of fish, but you will also reduce the amount of feces and nutrients that it is released to the environment
We need to optimize farming not go for the cheapest feed costs.
It’s all about efficiencies. We have to work on improving our overall efficiencies.
There are limitation on raw materials and using alternatives ingredients brings challenges to formulators. They should know well the composition and the available raw materials and make use of efficient additives to improve the performance of their feeds.
Are there too many species of fish to focus on? Should we be more selective in the species we attempt to farm?We need strategies and solutions to grow our industry. Aquaculture is more risky than farming other livestock species as it largely depends on the species and the individual focus of the industry involved. Salmon is the stand-out example of controlled feeding, environmental management and adoption of new technologies across regions.
The problem is aquaculture is leading to a growing variety of species being farmed. To counter this means that industry has to be prepared to collaborate in order to focus on a range of species that have the highest potential. That currently includes salmon, Tilapia, Shrimp/Prawn and catfish.
If we focus on these high-potential species we can develop and compete with pigs and poultry as a supply of renewable, sustainable protein for consumers. Lots of fragmented effort dilutes them and delays an outcome. If we look at cows, pigs or poultry, we see that they have been domesticated over thousands of years. That should tell us that we can’t start with several new species all at once in fish farming. The industry should focus on few of those species that have higher potential and develop a sustainable and efficient production with strong marketing promotion.
What are the key factors holding us back?We need to reduce the risk of disease in our farmed fish stocks. We also need to develop strong fish farming management. We need to inform the public of the benefits of fish as being more efficient in delivering food protein and high-quality nutrition. We need to improve our water management as water in many parts of the world is a limited resource. We need to develop marine and brackish water aquaculture as we do not have to rely on fresh water as beef and chicken farming need to.
Fish should be an important part of our diet. In the America’s and some EU countries, for example, fish consumption is low while in countries such as China and Indonesia the percentage of fish in the human diet is high. The economic logic is that where fish forms a significant share of food supply, we will see growing demand for more fish, not from fisheries but from aquaculture.
Growing incomes and population will also mean greater demand for terrestrial animal protein, but will those sectors be able to meet demand? Fish is a great alternative.
In Asia we eat whole fish – not fillets. Consumers see the quality of fish when they buy it whole. Fish is the center of a meal. If you eat fish this way it is delicious and that’s why Asians love it. They see it’s really fresh and they appreciate fish more than meat. That’s something we can learn from in the West.