For aquaculture farmer Paul Damhof, putting up the “sold out” placard along his roadside billboard has become almost as much of a daily chore as checking the pH levels of his shrimp tanks.
With customers across a 150-mile radius and few industry competitors to contend with, Blomkest shrimp farm Simply Shrimp LLC continues with meeting demand.
“On weekends, holidays, it’s nothing to have 20, 30, 40 people driving up on the yard, “Damhof said. “It’s gone as soon as we get (shrimp) up to size.”
Paul has owned and operated the shrimp farm since 2016, running it with his family from their refurbished dairy barn. And although the 17-tank, 6,600 square-foot facility churns out thousands of Pacific white shrimps each month, the supply is nowhere close to meeting demand.
As such, the company has set its sights on expansion. However, because the aquaculture industry is relatively new, Damhof said lenders are hesitant to loan money to the business as long-term financial data is limited.
“When raising corn, soy or cattle, lending institutions can see your track record. In aquaculture, there isn’t much data that a lending institution can go by,” he said. “But when we import 88% of the shrimp we consume here in the U.S., the market is very big.”
In order to expand his facility, Damhof is now seeking grant dollars through the Minnesota Investment Fund Program and The Minnesota Jobs Creation Program.
Through these programs, Simply Shrimp is requesting a total of $400,000 to assist with the company’s expansion. Of that amount, $300,000 will be used for construction and equipment purchases that cannot be completed without investment from the state of Minnesota and $100,000 will be used for the creation of jobs.
To apply for these grant dollars, the business first needs to inform the county board about the expansion project, and from there, the county will assess whether the project fits into its planning strategies.
Damhof—alongside Connie Schmoll, City of Willmar Economic Development Commission business development manager—presented his expansion proposal to the county board of commissioners during their June 16 meeting. The board responded favorably to the proposal, calling for a July 7 public hearing ahead of the board’s decision to submit the grant application to the aforementioned state program.
“The state has a new interest in aquaculture, so Simply Shrimp is high on their focus, and they want to do what they can to help get this industry going in Minnesota.” Schmoll told the board.
In fact, the Blomkest business has generated a buzz in recent months.
On January 7, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tom Peterson, along with local legislators Dave Baker, Tim Miller and Andrew Lang toured the facility to aid them in crafting future legislation for aquaculture farmers.
Just this month, Damhof told the board of commissioners, New York Times food critic Brett Anderson stopped by to see the facility firsthand.
In scaling up his business, Damhof plans to use the $400,000—should his grant request receive approval—to expand on the north side of the farm. He also aims to integrate new technology into the operation, including a new aeration system that cuts down on electricity expenses as well as an automated feeding system.
“There’s a Minnesota company that’s working on processing equipment,” he said, “and it’s been very fun working with that team and exciting to see where that’s going… They’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating technology that we need to move this industry forward.”
While the ultimate scope and construction dimensions of the facility have not yet been determined, Damhof said he’s excited about the potential for job creation here in the county due to the expansion, and added that the water in Kandiyohi County “is some of the best water for raising shrimp.”
“We’re very excited about having aquaculture in Minnesota,” he said. “We started small scale in 2016 and were able to improve the concept… Now we’re excited about taking this to the next step.”
Lakes Area Review by Brett Blocker, Editor
Photo by West Central Tribune