Two brothers from Cedar Falls have started a shrimp growing operation in a warehouse near the University of Northern Iowa campus. Matt Weichers, his wife Jen and brother Jon Gielau are raising thousands of shrimp in the building that once housed the university’s rat lab. Weichers says they have 30 tanks set up and are growing Pacific white shrimp from larvae up to market weight, which takes about 126 days.
The three looked at a lot of options before deciding to choose a seafood business. “We did a very traditional research where we sat down and laid out the pros and the cons of each type of business,”Weichers explained. “This was just kind of a wild idea that was out there. And the more research I did — looking for pros and cons — the more I liked it.”
Farming can require hours of tough work, but Gielau says shrimp farming doesn’t have some of the grueling tasks that come with raising other animals. “There isn’t so much a physical aspect — it’s more a timing and mental aspect where we have a lot of things that have to be done in a certain order at a certain time in order to care for the shrimp properly,” Gielau says. “And test the water to make sure we do that properly, so it’s kind of a balancing act.”
Iowa State University aquaculture specialist, Allan Patillo, compares aquaculture to living on the space shuttle. “Everything has to go right in order for you to live inside of a space shuttle, right? If any of the backup systems go down, then you can kill everything. And that’s basically exactly what we’re doing by putting fish on land in a tank,” Patillo says.
He says using an old building for aquaculture is a good way to recycle something and make it useful again. “You don’t have to upgrade a facility into something that’s extremely large. Land is Iowa is just insanely expensive — if you can reuse what you’ve already do and just modify it a bit, it’s really the ideal scenario,” Patillo says. The shrimp farm is the second in Iowa and the first inside a city limits.