The Ohio Aquaculture Cooperative is a coalition of individuals, farms, companies, organizations, etc dedicated to the advancement of the aquaculture (in addition to aquaponic and hydroponic) industry here in the state of Ohio. With so much interest in such a cooperative during a December 2017 meeting organized by the Ohio Aquaculture Association, a steering committee was formed to put pen to paper in making this dream a reality. And we are well on our way.
Advantages of a Cooperative
There are many advantages of a cooperative, having people of the same wavelength working towards the common goal of pushing forward the industry. However, it can be summed up quite briefly into 2 major categories; they are purchasing power to reduce costs and expansion of customer base.
Purchasing power is of utmost importance, especially in food fish production, which has relatively low margins (ask anyone who sells food fish!). We've all know that if we purchase in bulk, generally the price per unit will be cheaper. That's easy to see walking into Home Depot where buying 10+ of 10-FT pieces of 4'' OD PVC Pipe costs $5 less or walking into Kroger to buy 5+ participating items would take $1 off each item. Our cooperative can do the same, demanding a lower price for necessary costs like feed and equipment. The cost savings are significant; we are talking taking a few dollars off PER bag of feed and also saving on shipping costs.
Talking to companies/manufacturers/suppliers, I have not come across any that are not excited about working with a cooperative. Think about it. The aquaculture industry is still relatively small, to the point that fellow producers know those across state lines, maybe even on the other side of the country. I know that there are more people interested in getting started than there are folks who have established operations. These are potential new revenue streams for these manufacturers. Bob Calala of Calala's Water Haven even contacted me about feed producers who are interested in doing a presentation for our cooperative members in order to win our business. To a degree, manufacturers are just as interested in working with us as we are interested in getting better prices!
Expansion of customer base is the other major category. I've experienced the struggle here myself. You know, it's already tough enough to produce one species like saltwater shrimp, but I'm pushing as fast as I can to get into offering other species. Why? Because the public is used to going to a grocery store, picking up whatever they need, and taking it all home. We as people are used to having choices. I have chefs that purchase from me and ask me continuously what else I have to offer them. They want to buy all their fresh seafood from me and have me be that one source. Obviously, it's tough (or will take me a really, really long time) to produce the variety of species they need at my farm. However, this is where a cooperative would be most useful, working together to offer different seafood options grown locally throughout Ohio to allow for the freshest products possible (literally farm to table). In this way, it's possible for the cooperative to take over the wholesaler role and provide sales that members individually most likely could not achieve.
We haven't even gotten into the advantages of a cooperative processing facility yet, which would also feed into expanding our customer base. The seafood wholesaler industry is hitting an impasse as the trend now is to question where seafood comes from. In this "weakened" state that the wholesaler industry is in, we can strike while the iron is hot and ride this wave. We can start to supplant the wholesaler with a cooperative, connecting the public directly with the producers. The producers can even get better margins, which would take away from the wholesaler's absence.
Is This the Right Time?
The data shows that a cooperative has the right situation to start here in Ohio. From a survey conducted in the last few months for NCRAC, I've gathered the following information.
73% of producers use Zeigler Bros Feed and 20% use Purina 56% of producers would like to buy feed through a trusted cooperative entity 85% of producers would drive to pick up their feed if dropped off within a 30-minute drive 95% of producers are interested in an equipment/supplies online store
I'm Ready! What's Next?
If you are ready to join, please contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through the Contact Form. Either myself or another member of our steering committee will set up a good time to talk to you over the phone (or meet you). The conversation would center around what you expect out of our Cooperative and any questions/concerns/tips you may have for us as we move forward. One major item we would need from you, assuming you want to join the bulk feed ordering, is how much and how often you order feed. Any information you would like to keep private will not leave the steering committee.
I expect a meeting of cooperative members/potential members sometime this Spring to go over the progress our Steering Committee has made to make the Cooperative a reality.