China is by far the world's largest aquaculture producer, more than tripling the output of its closest competitor, India.
In an era when population is growing, acres of arable land is shrinking and water resources are challenged, the country wants and needs to learn how to grow more fish with less manpower at a cost that consumers can afford.
That's a challenge that the U.S. Soybean Export Council, carrying out the initiative of the United Soybean Board, can help meet.
On Aug. 2, 10 soybean producers from across the United States, along with two media representatives, USB board members and members of the USB contract communications team, met with members of the North Asia team of USSEC in Shanghai, China, as part of a tour to learn more about how the dollars contributed to the Soybean Checkoff by producers is spent to promote the use of soybeans.
The government-owned aquaculture farm they visited sits on a 200-acre site, 60% of which is water space. One section provides opportunities for recreational uses, including fishing, and the second section is a production area for the latest USSEC-developed aquaculture initiative, Intensive Pond Aquaculture.
The IPA program is actually the third effort in a program started in 1989 by USSEC to try to improve aquaculture in China, said Jim Zhang, Program Manager-Aquaculture with USSEC.
The first, low volume/high density cage growing, was followed by an 80-20 pond aquaculture technique.
IPA builds on both of those techniques to take fish farming to a greater level of profitability with reduced environmental impact.
The system involves the use of cells or "raceways" within ponds where aerators and lift systems create constant water circulation and currents that mimic the flow of a river.
Fingerlings, mid-growth fish and grow-out fish are separated by size and growth stage into separate raceways and fed four times a day during daylight hours from automatic feeders at the end of each pond.
Mature fish can be harvested by dragging a big net through the raceway, dramatically reducing the amount of time and labor needed to complete the harvest.
The program began in 2013 with four demonstrations to fishermen and technical support from USSEC.
This year, more than 100 producers in 8 provinces have adopted IPA and have constructed raceways within ponds.
USSEC-formulated soy feed is promoted as a package deal to producers wishing to adopt the IPA system. They get technical help from USSEC if they agree to feed U.S. soy feed.
"Obviously, we can't have a mandate," Zhang said. "But we can strongly encourage package sales. Our goal is to ensure that fishermen use the optimized feed so they get the consistent results that our research shows is possible."
The immediate goal for the farm that See for Yourself trade mission participants visited is an automated system for using bulk feed to keep fish feeders filled. Currently, only bagged feed is available.