Dec 12, 2022
Illinois soybean grower Daryl Cates meets with the village leader who conducted WISHH feeding trials in his ponds to evaluate whether Cambodia’s popular snakehead fish, a carnivore, would eat soy-based pellet feeds. The trials resulted in the respected official recommending the adoption of soy-based fish feeds to get faster fish growth. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy, United Soybean Board
Six U.S. soybean growers report promising signs of progress after traveling with ASA’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health Program to Cambodia, where WISHH leads trade and development for U.S. soy.
“I think it’s very exciting to see a young, thriving economy that has the potential to consume more of our U.S. soy through proteins,” said ASA President Brad Doyle of Arkansas. “We had very fascinating conversations with members of both aquaculture and livestock raisers associations here in-country. One of the strengths of coming over here is farmers talking to potential and current buyers. We share our story of how we raise our crop, our planting intentions. They love to hear that story.”
Cambodia is home to 16.7 million people and growing feed and aquaculture industries that recognize U.S. soy is high quality protein. “As we transition many fish farms from the homemade non-soy diet to a majority soy diet, it's going to be huge business for them, too,” adds Doyle.
WISHH’s June 2022 trade team also included then-WISHH Chair Gerry Hayden from Kentucky, ASA Vice President Daryl Cates from Illinois, ASA Director and WISHH Vice Chair Morey Hill from Iowa, WISHH Treasurer Bob Haselwood of Kansas and USB Director Greg Greving of Nebraska.
Here are five signs of progress spotted by the six soybean growers.
By leveraging soybean checkoff resources with USDA Foreign Agricultural Service funding, WISHH is able to work with fish farmers, processors and others, including a Cambodian feed mill that installed the first aquaculture line of feeds in the Southeast Asian country. The company has purchased U.S. soybean meal and is an important part of WISHH and the Cambodian government’s strategy to help Cambodian farmers use soy-based pellet feeds rather than their traditional, pond-polluting homemade feeds that are low in protein. Welders were at work when the trade team visited the feed mill, which through a multi-million-dollar investment is expanding to also make swine, duck and other feeds.
Outside the mill, farmers and truckers formed lines to load the soy-based feeds sold throughout the country. “I think the most important thing WISHH is doing is creating soy meal demand,” said Hayden. “How are we doing that? We're teaching Cambodian fish farmers how to be more efficient, how to use floating soymeal pellets, and to increase their efficiencies and shorten their production time.”
“You might think of Cambodia as being a small market, but you know these smaller markets add together,” said Haselwood.
An ASA/WISHH project partner in Cambodia shares with U.S. soybean growers how WISHH is helping the business improve food safety and innovate for new fish-based products. From Left; ASA Vice President Daryl Cates, ASA Director Morey Hill, ASA President Brad Doyle and WISHH Treasurer Bob Haselwood. Photo credit: WISHH
“One of the biggest improvements I’ve seen since our January 2020 Cambodia trip was adoption of the in-pond raceway systems,” said Hill, who visited the fabrication center that is now making and marketing the fourth-generation models. “Use of these systems can grow exponentially now that the raceways are manufactured locally by a very well-respected company that is using local labor, local materials and giving back to the community.”
Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council funds supported WISHH introducing the first in-pond raceway systems in Cambodia in 2020. WISHH’s aquaculture advisor in Cambodia designed these unique floating systems to help Cambodian farmers overcome their fish production challenges, which include heavy rains and extreme dry seasons.
“The most important takeaway from my time in Cambodia is things that work in Vietnam, Thailand and China don't necessarily work here,” said Leonard Rodgers, Ph.D., WISHH’s aquaculture advisor in Cambodia.
In-pond raceway systems also help farmers manage fish in Cambodia, where they traditionally use homemade feeds with rice bran as the main ingredient. “It’s low in protein so you have to feed a lot of it to put muscle on the fish,” said Rodgers.
“An in-pond-raceway helps the farmers monitor their biggest cost outlay, which is feed,” Rodgers stressed. “Cambodian fish farmers' feed costs usually constitute 70-90% of their production costs.”
Nebraska soybean checkoff funding allowed WISHH to work on technology that increases the oxygen available to pond-raised fish based on Cambodia’s unique needs. In 2022, WISHH began piloting the custom aeration systems.
“The aerators are doing what they are designed to do and are increasing production for the fish farms,” said Greving, who while in Cambodia spoke at an WISHH/USB-sponsored conference on sustainable intensification in agriculture.
“Aeration is an important challenge to overcome in Cambodia,” says Rodgers. “In a normal pond, only the top meter of water carries much oxygen. Thunderstorms and windstorms can invert the pond so the good oxygen-carrying water on top gets pushed to the bottom of the pond and away from the fish.
“If you don't have at least one part-per-million of oxygen in the water, fish can't oxidize the ammonia from their waste and decaying feed,” added Rodgers. “You're dealing with a whole ecosystem, and you need oxygen to keep that ecosystem in balance so you can produce fish.”
WISHH’s early results show promise that the popular carnivorous snakehead fish can be trained to eat soy-based feeds, a project supported by Illinois soy checkoff investments.
“It's been a win-win with Cambodian fish farmers being able to use soy protein pellets,” said Cates. “Their farmers saw the snakehead are gaining weight faster with soy protein feeds. And the farmers are able to harvest the fish faster.”
Switching snakehead to eat soy-based feeds offers groundbreaking opportunities for sustainability in Cambodian aquaculture, where the snakehead prey on local fish stocks. WISHH is sharing the Illinois soy checkoff research with the Cambodian government, which is concerned traditional feeding practices have negative effects on water quality and more.
As a program of ASA, WISHH has association development in its DNA. WISHH tapped the farmers in the trade team to join an idea exchange with a livestock raisers association and the Cambodian Aquaculturist Association that WISHH helped launch and grow to 600 members in less than two years.
“The new aquaculture association here in Cambodia is definitely creating interest and enthusiasm,” said Hill. “They just need a little more direction and guidance on how to make their association work here at their newer level.”