Time for harvest

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 24, 2006

Shrimp farming in the Black Belt



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MOSSES &045; Jumbo shrimp are being grown in this small rural town in Lowndes County, a land more fitting for cows and horses.

In the 1950s, when Lee Earnest Jackson started developing the area’s first rural water system, tests revealed the salt content was high. What Jackson discovered was an 80 million year old saltwater aquifer, trapped beneath the surface of the Black Belt.

Years later his son, Lee Jackson would read of a farmer in Alabama who was growing shrimp in a pond in Hale County, and the idea was hatched. Dr. David Teichert-Coddington, owner of Green Prairie Aqua Farm in Forkland, began mentoring Lee Jackson in 2000. The next year, Jackson got started on his own.

Jackson will soon be making his sixth harvest of Pacific White shrimp, which grow to the jumbo size most seafood lovers prefer &045; and they’re purely organic.

There are five growers in Alabama producing shrimp in the Black Belt. Production this year will be 400,000 pounds on 80 acres of ponds, which will create $920,000, according to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, met Auburn President Dr. Ed Richardson and a large contingent of professors and specialists who have worked with Jackson to perfect his operation, at Jackson-Bay Boy Farms to tour the facilities on Wednesday. Jesse Chappell, assistant professor and cooperative extension fisheries specialist, cast a net to take samples.

It’s time for the harvest.

The talk was about the next step for Jackson. Sen. Sanders had eaten shrimp and grits at the farm before. He knew what to expect.

In Lowndes County, a rural setting with 9 percent unemployment &045; estimated to be higher than 20 percent in Mosses &045; the development of a processing plant could be the next step. Though only seasonal, the addition of any jobs for several months out of the year would be welcomed, said Jackson.

Jackson, the first and only African American shrimp grower in the country, serves as vice president of the newly incorporated Alabama Inland Shrimp Producer’s Association. It was founded through a grant from State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, to promote the newly emerging industry. Teichert-Coddington serves a president of the association.

Dr. David B. Rouse, Auburn department head of fisheries and allied aquacultures, works to improve grower’s conditions. &8220;Any type of processor would be a good venture here,&8221; he said. &8220;It would require some extra labor.&8221;

Richardson was impressed with the work of his staff, who have studied and taught graduate studies using Jackson’s farm. Rouse said they are even researching uses for the discarded heads and shells, which would be a byproduct of a processor.

Another idea Auburn is experimenting with is growing flounder, pompano and redfish. &8220;The flounder can handle cooler temperatures,&8221; Rouse said.

The shrimp have proven to be viable. Chappell is excited about Jackson’s upcoming harvest. It’s been perfected sine the first and even second years &045; even the shrimp’s introduction to the pond in early June.

For Jackson, his focus is on getting the &8220;value added&8221; aspects of the industry. He said his economies of scale call for additional ponds and the ability to process the shrimp on-site.

Jackson said he envision a processor in Mosses hiring up to 100 employees seasonally, who would not only process and package shrimp, but possibly catfish and the new fish crops that may not be far away from being harvested in saltwater ponds. His father said he always supported his son in the shrimp endeavor on his farm. The talk of expansion made him smile.