For soybeans, aquaculture remains the fastest growing animal food-producing sector, consuming over 500 billion pounds of soybean meal each year. In fact, the global aquaculture industry has been increasing 9-11% a year, and growth is expected to continue as the world population surges.

There's no better example of that expansion than a new, super intensive shrimp farm in the Trat province of Thailand. Just 185 miles east of Bangkok on 1,000 acres, the state-of-the-art project represents the largest indoor, completely biosecure shrimp farm in the world, according to its owners, Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF).

Much like a farrow-to-finish hog operation, this shrimp farm starts the operation by developing specialized genetically improved, specific pathogen-free shrimp. Baby shrimp bred from these specially developed brooders are then grown in a three-stage operation: nursery, juvenile growout and the finisher. All phases are grown in covered ponds. Covering is essential for controlling disease and temperature. Ocean salt water is channeled five miles via canal and through a series of treatment ponds; it's recycled through the facility every four months. The stocking of baby shrimp into the nursery to the final harvest and market takes 125 days.

“This highly computerized, $300-million closed-system project operates year round. Using conventional open ponds and conventional shrimp-growing technology limits production to the warm growing months of summer,” says Sommai Tachasirinugune, executive vice president at CPF. “With this system we have a continuous supply of shrimp.”

Although the operation is still in its infancy, it's producing 2,500 tons of shrimp a year, which is processed through CPF's food-processing facilities. When the project reaches peak capacity, it's expected to produce 4,000 tons of white Pacific shrimp.

TO FEED THAT volume of shrimp, nearly 15,000 tons a month of soybean meal are fed in a special shrimp ration that's 28-35% protein. “We use soybean meal as a protein source because of its high protein content with high levels of essential and digestible amino acids. Soybean meal also is readily available at competitive prices,” says Tachasirinugune. “At the beginning of 2009, we purchased U.S. soybean meal at $390/ton.”

Other feed ingredients in the ration are fish meal, squid meal, canola meal and wheat flour. Most of the soybean meal is imported from the U.S., India, Brazil and Argentina. Some comes from local soybean farmers.

In 2008, Thailand imported 2.2 million metric tons of soybean meal, part of that from the U.S. CPF uses nearly 40% of the total soybean meal in Thailand. Besides its seafood operations, CPF also is a leading producer of poultry, pork and dairy in Thailand.

CPF markets worldwide with a sizeable presence in the U.S. and the European Union. For example, you'll find CP shrimp products marketed through warehouse club chain Costco in the U.S. According to CPF, about 90% of all shrimp grown in Thailand is exported; only 10% is consumed domestically.