The American soybean industry has been quick to jump on the bandwagon of aquaculture, one of the fastest-growing food segments in the world. Administrators for the U.S. soybean checkoff saw the long-term potential in aquaculture and invested funds to develop methods to increase inclusion of soy in many fish diets.

As the demand for aquaculture soars with global population growth, the demand for seafood products won’t be met by the capture fisheries, which capture wild fish or shellfish.

Global aquaculture continues to grow at an annual rate of 9 percent to 11 percent. This presents a significant opportunity for soy as a feed ingredient. Overall, aquaculture will consume an estimated 8 million to 10 million metric tons of soybean meal in the next decade.

Those directing the soybean checkoff program “recognized the bright future of aquaculture and we have gotten in on the ground floor with our investment in new technologies to increase soy inclusion in fish diets ,” says Terry Ecker, United Soybean Board International Marketing chair and a soybean farmer from Elmo, Mo.

Soy-based diets for select marine fish have been developed and are being demonstrated in several projects located in the Philippines, Vietnam, and China.

Research efforts are focused on identifying barriers to soy inclusion in the diets of marine fish such as salmon, pompano, amberjack, Mediterranean sea bass, sea bream and cobia, as well as increasing the soy inclusion in marine shrimp diets.

Soy meal inclusion shows greater potential in fish than in other livestock rations. In fact, fish diets can contain twice as much soy as any other livestock ration, with over half the diets of many freshwater fish containing soy products in some cases.

Since each species of fish has different dietary requirements, part of the research effort includes building a database to house the inclusion rates of each species.

Other investments by the soybean checkoff include new technologies to reduce weather challenges and make aquaculture practicable in more areas.

In 2004, the soybean checkoff invested in Ocean Cage Aquaculture Technology to design prototype offshore ocean cages for testing in China. The cages are used with floating feed containing various amounts of soybean meal based on the dietary needs of the species of fish within the cage.

To handle weather challenges, a truncated pyramid design was selected, with single-point anchoring to allow the cages to float down-current and to automatically submerge with increasing storm-generated wind and water currents. During typhoons, the top buoys are quickly disconnected, and the cage goes back 1 meter below the surface and then submerges with the increasing storm-generated wind and water currents.

OCAT is just one example of the success the soybean checkoff has had in the realm of aquaculture. China is another example. “China’s aquaculture industry went from using no soy meal a decade ago to over 150 million bushels annually,” says Ecker. “Advances in aquaculture are one of the reasons China is our number one export customer.”

USB is made up of 64 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply.

As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Customer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.