While Iowa’s known as a global leader in agriculture, it will soon be home to one of the world’s biggest aquaculture facilities. Plans are moving forward to build the Hawkeye State’s first major fish farm in north-central Iowa.
Keith Driver is president of Vero Blue Farms, based in Plano, Texas. The company is cementing a proposal to build a major operation in Webster City.
“Once complete, this will be the largest land-based fish farm in North America,” Driver says. “It’s taken a lot to convince the world and the markets that putting $50-million into aquaculture in Webster City, Iowa, is a good idea, not because it’s Webster City, Iowa, but because there’s not a shore or a sea on either side of us.”
The fish farm aims to employ 150 people and produce 40-million pounds of fish per year. It will be located in a former warehouse once used by Electrolux Home Products, which closed in 2011 when washer-dryer production was moved to Mexico.
“We’re using it right now as a very large storage warehouse for a very small amount of material,” Driver says. “We have plans to put five of our 48-tank farms in there. I’ve lined up tanks and almost all of the financing. We’re waiting for the investment committee on Friday to give us our final approvals and then we’ll be building through the summer.”
Vero Blue is finalizing the contract with the city for water management into and out of the facility and the company plans to build a multi-million dollar waste water treatment plant on-site.
“The big other component to it is being able to put in a well on the site,” Driver says. “The reason for that is, chlorine is not a fish’s friend, as we can all imagine. The ability to get raw water to the site, we tried an engineering solution through the city and the cost is getting really high.”
The project was first announced in the fall of 2014. It is hoped the facility will open later this year. The aquaculture operation will house the barramundi species of fish, also known as Australian sea bass.
Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City