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July 7 2014

United States

Alabama—Dickie Odom’s Shrimp Farm

 

In parts of Greene County in western Alabama, two saltwater aquifers make production of shrimp far from the ocean possible.  In 1999, Dickie Odom, helped by an Auburn University research project, started a shrimp farm there.  Now Odom, one of three inland shrimp farms in Alabama, has more customers than shrimp.

 

Each spring, Odom drives to Islamorada, Florida, to purchase three million postlarvae (Penaeus vannamei), or PLs, to stock his ponds.  It’s a 20-hour drive, with stops every four hours to feed the PLs, which are held in water chilled to 65 degrees to make them lethargic so that they don’t end up eating each other.  On arrival in Alabama, they are placed into two enormous greenhouse tanks until they are ready to be stocked in ponds.

 

When the shrimp first arrive, the water in the tanks needs to be as close as possible to 35 parts per thousand (ppt) salinity.  The biggest issue is temperature.  If the shrimp undergo a temperature change of more than one degree Celsius, they will go into shock, so Odom pours 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of ice into his tanks to chill the water.  The next day, he starts introducing his pond water to the tanks.  By May, he has acclimated his shrimp to salinity as low as 3.5 ppt.

 

After 150 days in the ponds, the shrimp are ready to be harvested, and that’s when the masses come.  Odom’s shrimp are a real hit, not only in West Alabama, but also throughout the state and even in Mississippi.

 

The last weekend in September is harvest time, and people come from all over to watch Odom haul shrimp out of his seven ponds.  He typically harvests 1,500 pounds of shrimp from a one-acre pond.  That’s 10 shrimp to a pound, sold head-on.  A good harvest is 50,000 pounds, but Odom says he needs to double that to meet demand.

 

Even with no advertising, hundreds of people come for the harvest; so many that Odom doesn’t have enough shrimp to sell.  He doesn’t like that. “My fear is that [customers] drive 50 miles, a 100 miles, and I don’t have shrimp.”

 

Odom doesn’t sell to restaurants or grocery stores, and he still struggles to harvest enough shrimp to meet demand.  “We sell our [shrimp] direct to the customer,” Odom says.  “We built this business selling direct to the public and that’s how it’s gonna be.”

 

At $4 a pound, buying shrimp from Odom is significantly cheaper (and customers say better) than shrimp you can buy at the beach or from your local grocery store.  His faithful customers will wait all day to fill their cooler with shrimp.

 

What makes it all so incredible is that Odom does this all on his own.  He has some help during the harvest season, but for the rest of the year it’s a one-man job.  “Everything I do here, I do it myself.  Big is not always better.”

 

For more information on Alabama’s inland shrimp farming industry, visit: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1302.

 

Source: WWW.AL.com.  West Alabama Ponds Dish Up Shrimp Surprise. Cristiana Shipma.  July 7, 2014.

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