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Former Iowa hog operation now home to fish farm

A Webster City hog production facility shut down by the economy is back in operation and is now a model for a new agriculture market. The owners of the farm called “Iowa’s First” are now raising striped bass in the building that used to be used to raise hogs.

Iowa State University extension fisheries and aquaculture expert, Allen Patillo, says there are 18 tanks that hold 10,000 gallons of water in the building. “The way that the hog building was set up, everything fit in there very nicely,” Patillo says.

Patillo says those who decide to get into aquaculture often don’t do enough research to ensure the business will survive, but that’s not the case with Webster City owners Mark and Jeff Nelson. “Now these guys have done a good job in doing their homework ahead of time, but whenever somebody hears about fish farming they don’t necessarily take the time to look and see where am I actually going to sell these things at?,” Patillo says.

“They figure they sell to friends and family and make enough money to make a living out of it. But, that’s just not the case any more.”

The biggest problem right now is the Webster City operation doesn’t grow enough fish to support an area processor. So the fish have to first go to Minnesota to be processed. “Those fish get filetted and sent to white tablecloth restaurants throughout the region in Minnesota and Chicago,”Pattillo says. “What we’re trying to do more of is move it into more of a local foods program. Get those fish processed in the Webster City area, and then get them sent into Des Moines.”

Patillo says that would cut out the extra time of sending them to Minnesota for processing first. Pattillo says he and other experts are looking at how to grow enough fish to be able to create a coop that could then supply enough fish to process in Webster City. He says they are in the early stages of studying the issue and getting the legal documents together to create the coop needed to expand the operation.