Richard Hawley has an idea that he reckons could change the face of Wyoming agriculture.
But he needs people to buy in first.
It’s not what you’d expect for a land-locked state like Wyoming, but Hawley believes Wyoming could become one of the nation’s largest producers of shrimp.
The popular shellfish can be raised just about anywhere, according to Hawley
“It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” he said.
Hawley, a Lovell resident, currently works as a government liaison for an energy firm called Inductance Energy, but he worked as a staffer in Senator Mike Enzi’s offices in Washington D.C. and Wyoming between 1998 and 2015. Hawley said he has also opened 14 businesses over the years, ranging from daycare centers to restaurants.
The idea for shrimp farming came while he was under Enzi’s employ.
Hawley was sent around the state of Wyoming as a representative of Senator Enzi to help with economic development. In this case it was Midwest, Wyoming, which had an excess number of geo-thermal wells due to oil drilling attempts that didn’t produce oil but only hot water.
Midwest wanted to use the water as a feature in a local park. Hawley had other ideas.
“Instead of just using that water to grow grass, make it into a nice little business of some sort,” Hawley said.
The water, Hawley thought, could be used for aqua-culture, or to farm seafood. The typical choice in Wyoming for similar efforts is fish like tilapia, but Hawley said he saw a more profitable opportunity.
Tilapia sells for just over $2 a pound. Shrimp sells for $9.40. It’s logical, Hawley said. But it’s different.
“Shrimp is new and different for Wyoming. I’m a fifth generation Wyoming boy, and Wyoming does not like new and different. The state had no problem with tilapia, because they understand fish, but they backed away from shellfish,” Hawley said.
Midwest did indeed back away from shrimp farming, but Hawley took the idea for himself.
It’s a remarkably simple process, Hawley said. It begins with freshwater baby shrimp being Fed-Exed to him regularly.
“They look like grains of sand swimming with eyeballs,” Hawley said.
Those shrimp are dumped in potable water, which can come from just about anywhere, and Hawley lets the shrimp grow in the tank for a month, feeding them regularly.
Shrimp will eat just about anything, including failed crops or tossed school lunches, according to Hawley.
After a month, the shrimp are dumped into a second tank. After another month, when the shrimp are almost cocktail size, the shrimp are dumped in a third tank. At the end of the third month, the shrimp are able to be sold as jumbo shrimp and are ready for the market.
That’s his system, which Hawley says is beneficial because it separates the shrimp, limiting the spread of diseases that could wipe out the stock. But many farmers around the country do it differently. It just takes a pool of water, Hawley said.
“Farmers in Indiana have a shrimp pond out back,” Hawley said. “It’s only 10-15k a year, but it’s 10-15 they don’t have to work for.
“It could be ginormous for Wyoming, we have the water, we have lots of land. Wyoming has the largest average farmer ranch size anywhere in the country. We beat Alaska. We beat Texas. And I don’t have to displace a single cow, I don’t have to displace a single section of agriculture that’s in production,” Hawley continued. “I can use the rockiest, most alkaline piece of dirt on the planet, because the shrimp never touch it. So find a hunk of dirt that is unusable for anybody else.”
The shrimp business in the United States is in need of 1.2 billion pounds of shrimp a year, Hawley said. Most of that product comes from overseas, as far away as India. There is a market for locally produced shrimp, Hawley said.
“We have the land. We have the water. We have the food. And the market is there,” Hawley said.
But it hasn’t been easygoing for the pioneering shrimp farmer. Hawley said banks statewide have rejected his business proposal, including several banks within Big Horn County. He’s tried opening businesses in Casper and Powell, only for them to fall apart. Wyoming, so far, has been very hesitant, Hawley said.
“I don’t know if the cattlemen think I’m going to be replacing beef or chicken as a primary piece of protein, because I’m not. The average guy loves shrimp, it beats Tuna two to one, but we don’t eat it three times a day,” Hawley said. “It’s just new and different. Wyoming is terrified of new and different. Every pioneer has to be a pioneer. That’s just how it is.”
Hawley is close though to finding a place. Hawley is negotiating to purchase a 14-acre plot of land and building in Cody. It should be very affordable, he said.
Within the facility, Hawley plans to produce 17 stacks of shrimp a week, each stack consisting of the three-tank system. It would amount to 50 pounds of fresh shrimp a week.
“And there’s some restaurants in Cody that would buy all 50 pounds,” Hawley said.
Hawley has been working to bring shrimp to Wyoming for five years now. It’s just in his blood to be persistent, he said.
“When my great grandparents moved here, they moved from Nebraska. They had to pick up rocks for four to five years before they were able to farm,” Hawley said. “That’s what it takes. I’m not afraid of hard work, I just need someone to give me the chance to show that it can be done.”
By Ryan Fitzmaurice