It's been called one of the biggest potential new uses for soy in the future. What is it? Experts predict it will be the use of soybean meal in aquaculture production.

The high protein and amino acid level of soybean meal make it better for fish growth and weight gain in aquaculture than traditional feeds, reports Purdue University researcher Paul Brown. Additionally, soybean meal is less expensive and more environmentally friendly than fishmeal, which has predominantly been used in aqua feeds.

With the worldwide population expected to grow by 2 billion people by 2025, and health-conscious consumers showing an increasing demand for fish and fish products, aquaculture — and the use of soybean meal — is poised to grow.

Of this potential growth for “farm-raised fish,” John Campen, new uses program manager for the United Soybean Board (USB) says, “The wild catch cannot be sustained, and commercial fishing is leveling off worldwide. In order to meet the increased demand in the future, aquaculture is a place where it can come from.”

Campen adds, “Right now about 5 million metric tons of soybean meal goes into aquaculture production per year, and we have the opportunity within the next 10 years to increase that to between eight and 10 million metric tons — which is nearly 20% of the U.S. bean meal production. Obviously that represents a significant increase in soybean utilization.”

GREAT FOR GROUNDWATER, TOO

Another water-based application showing promise for soy is in the cleanup of groundwater. The USB and Soybean Checkoff are working with companies to fund technologies to treat contaminated groundwater sites with injections of emulsified soybean oil.

Here's how it works: Emulsified soybean oil is injected into the soil at groundwater level to act as a food source for microbes. The microbes can “eat” the oil or its fermentation products and then “breathe” the contaminants. Microbes fed in this way can reductively dechlorinate contaminants like dry-cleaning solvents or solvents used for degreasing parts in manufacturing.

When compared with other remediation processes, treating contamination underground with soybean oil may be much less expensive than traditional pump-and-treat options that require removing contaminants from the water in above-ground treatment systems.

William Newman, president of Remediation and Natural Attenuation Services (RNAS) in Brooklyn Center, MN, has produced a product dubbed “Newman Zone,” which includes 50% soy oil and provides a slow-release food source for bioremediation systems.

Newman reports that in 2005, production of the Newman Zone emulsion consumed approximately 500,000 pounds of soybean oil with triple the sales from 2004. Thus, he says, assuming competing products are doing a similar volume, approximately 1 million pounds of soybean oil were likely consumed for bioremediation in 2005, and he anticipates that volume is likely to double or triple in 2006.

Newman has also licensed technology from NASA called emulsified zero valent iron (EZVI). It uses tiny iron particles mixed with water and then emulsified in vegetable oil in a process to dechlorinate contaminants. Building on that technology, RNAS is replacing the vegetable oil with methyl soyate and using more sophisticated processing methods to make the EZVI material more practical to use as an off-the-shelf product for future groundwater cleanup.

SOY IN AQUACULTURE STATISTICS

The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), operating internationally as American Soybean Association International Marketing (ASA IM) has been working in the aquaculture industry in China and other countries for more than a decade, feeding fish with high quality, soybean meal formulated aqua feeds. What are the results?

  • Aquaculture is truly a global industry, says Bridget Owen, USSEC Aquaculture Manager, with more than 95% of aquaculture produced in international markets, such as India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

  • These nations represent an opportunity for approximately 1 million metric tons of soybean meal usage in the rapidly growing aquaculture industry. Aquaculture diets have been developed for key species in each nation. Up to 52% soybean meal inclusions are being used in diets for tilapia, common carp and rohu (Indian) carp.

  • The soybean industry recognized that the primary constraints to expanded ocean-based aquaculture are the development of cage production systems that withstand ocean storm conditions, and technologies for culturing marine fish in those cage systems. The USSEC/ASA-IM aquaculture program in China initially addressed feed development and tested marine fish feeds with high soybean meal inclusion rates between 1999 and 2003.

  • In 2004, as part of the Managed Aquaculture Program, the Ocean Cage Aquaculture Technology Project (OCAT) was implemented to expand the ocean-based aquaculture effort. The OCAT design is a 100 cubic meter truncated pyramid cage that is designed to submerge during strong ocean storms. The two prototype OCAT cages, located off the southern coast of Hainan Island, China recently survived one of the strongest typhoons to hit the island in 30 years. Owen says, “This is a very exciting and promising growth area for aquaculture. Offshore cages have the greatest development potential because of better water quality and less competition for space from other industries.”

  • In India, feeding demonstrations with rohu carp conducted as part of the Soy in Aquaculture project utilized a 52% inclusion rate in formulated aqua feed. This year's demonstration yielded a higher return on investment with a better feed conversion ratio and an average higher weight of almost 20 grams for the rohu harvested from the soy fed ponds compared to the rohu harvested in the ponds produced with the traditional manure-based method. The rohu in the soy-fed ponds were also produced in 147 days compared to 221 days to produce the rohu in traditional, manure-based produced ponds.

For more information visit www.soyaqua.org.