Nighttime cold forces early harvest of freshwater shrimp

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Southeast Missourian

GORDONVILLE, Mo. -- John Lorberg studiously watches the weather forecasts just like any other farmer.

The cold snap he saw coming made him hasten to harvest his crop Monday a week early. When it was in, he breathed a sigh of relief.

He had harvested his first crop of shrimp, and they were alive and healthy.

Lorberg is the first freshwater shrimp farmer in Southeast Missouri working in conjunction with Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Ill. It wasn't a bad first season: He sold 400 pounds of shrimp to two St. Louis seafood companies and is selling another 300 pounds locally.

"We drained a one-acre shrimp pond and found lots of shrimp," said Lorberg, whose farm is along Route Z about a half-mile west of Gordonville.

The forecasts called for lows dipping below 40 degrees and highs in the mid-60s today. Shrimp can't live in water temperatures cooler than 60 degrees, said Lorberg.

Until Monday, he didn't know whether his hard work would pay off.

"We've been feeding the shrimp twice a day for more than three months," said Lorberg. "I didn't really know if I even had any shrimp. We had placed about 15,000 one-inch shrimp in the pond in June but could never see them."

That's one of the uncertainties of being a shrimp farmer, said Lorberg.

On hand for the harvest was Bob Boyd of Jonesboro, Ill., who harvested a one-acre pond of shrimp Saturday because of the approaching cool weather. The shrimp really needed another week's growth, said Lorberg and Boyd.

"Shrimp grow fast in late stages," said Boyd. "Another week and the size of the shrimp could have doubled, putting them in a monster bracket where four to five shrimp would have weighed a pound."

Average size

Overall, the shrimp harvested ranged from seven to 10 a pound, about average.

Lorberg had an idea of what to expect from shrimping. He had read an article about Shawnee College's program in the Southeast Missourian in October and later took a course at the school.

Boyd is an instructor there on raising shrimp, or prawn, as they are referred to in aquaculture circles.

"I think you'll see shrimp-raising as an alternative aquaculture crop throughout Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri in the future," said Boyd. "This year farmers have about 12 to 15 acres of freshwater shrimp in Southern Illinois."

Boyd said with all the interest, he expects as many as 50 acres next year and as many as 100 the following year. The first fresh-water shrimp were harvested in Illinois about a year ago.

Lorberg said he was glad he took the chance.

Pleased with results

"I'm happy with our first try with shrimp," he said. "We're already looking forward to next year."

Lorberg said he may add a second pond of about a half-acre next year.

He sold 300 pounds of shrimp to Fabulous Seafood Co. of St. Louis, which provides more than 500 restaurants with fresh shrimp. Seafood City of St. Louis picked up another 100 pounds.

The 300 pounds he kept will be sold at the farm. Shrimp will be available there today and Wednesday at $8 a pound.

Aquaculture is already big in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. More than 45 fish farms are registered in Missouri with more than half of them in Southeast Missouri. Most concentrate on catfish. In Illinois there are 45 to 50 fish farms, with two of the biggest near Gorham in Southern Illinois.

335-6611, extension 133

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