Illinois soybean farmers are bringing new customers for their crop to the surface. Immersed in research with the nation’s aquaculture industry, more fresh domestic soybean market opportunities could be spawned.

Aquaculture is an uptapped, growing market for soybean farmers, says Duane Dahlman, a soybean farmer from Marengo, IL, and a director for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA). “The potential for the soybean industry is great. We can open up a smaller market and help turn it into a larger market for aquaculture producers and our product. Research shows a large percentage of the protein needed can come from soy,” he says.

Such is the case for Logan Hollow Fish Farm near Murphysboro, IL. All of its fish receive protein in their rations, including soybean meal. 

“Soybean meal is the primary ingredient in our catfish feed and the second ingredient behind fish meal in our high-protein fish rations,” says Michael Schmidt, who works with Peter Reiff in the operation. “Having access to high-quality soybean meal for feed is critical, especially as fish meal becomes more scarce and expensive. Soy is a key protein source in our rations.”

Logan Hollow’s operationis nestled below the river bluffs and between soybean fields in southern Illinois not far from the Mississippi River. The area is well suited for rearing high-quality fingerling fish for pond stocking. River-bottom grounds offer fertile soil, high-quality groundwater and a long growing season. The farm has more than 60 ponds ranging from one-half to seven acres for a total of 170 acres of water.

“Normally, climate, water availability and soil composition for pond building determine aquaculture suitability,” says Melanie Fitzpatrick, United Soybean Board (USB) U.S. utilization director. “New technologies are being developed to expand opportunities for indoor land-based systems, as well. A big factor for them is energy costs to control temperature, especially in cold climates. It is important to farm aquatic species suited for the particular situation.”

In the case of Logan Hollow, spawning season begins in May with bass, crappie and sunfish. Catfish begin spawning in June when water temperatures rise. Fish, like hybrid striped bass and triploid grass carp, are spawned manually and hatched in special jars. They’re harvested in early March through late May and again from early September through late October.

“Southern Illinois and Missouri offer good conditions for the type of feeding we do, but Arkansas is the largest state for operations like ours,” says Schmidt. “If you move too far north of here, the season is too short. South of here in states like Mississippi and Alabama, producers can raise catfish for consumption just about all year round.”

Fitzpatrick adds that the number of growing days is extremely important and varies for different species. “For instance, Illinois may actually have more growing days for cool-water species like hybrid striped bass than Arkansas does, because the fish stop growing at water temperatures over 82° Fahrenheit,” she says. “Every area has its own set of unique challenges.”