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AQ1's—Acoustic Feeding System—Update
At the World Aquaculture Society Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (February 22–26, 2016), I interviewed Attilio Castano, Regis Bador and Ross Dodd—all three very much involved with the development and utilization of the AQ1 System, which records the sounds shrimp make when they feed and then uses those sounds to control and optimize feeding with automatic feeders.
Attilio operates a 220-hectare shrimp farm in Ecuador and has been instrumental in the adoption of the AQ1 System in Ecuador, Regis is in charge of marketing the system in Latin America and Ross is the owner and developer of the system.
Shrimp News: Ross, I’ve been reporting on the AQ1 System since 2009. Are there any new developments?
Ross Dodd: Yes, we have recently released a third generation sound-feeding system with new PC software, smarter control algorithms and many other features. The system is deployed in 17 countries, and the adoption of the system has been very good in countries that haven’t had any serious disease issues. We’ve added employees, we’re doing more research and development and we have opened an office in Thailand. Regis has been very active in developing Latin American markets and will be based in Panama soon. Attilio is having great success with the system in Ecuador.
Shrimp News: In Southeast Asia, which of the shrimp farming countries are your biggest buyers?
Ross Dodd: In Southeast Asia, Thailand and Vietnam are the biggest users of our system, but we also have systems in Indonesia and Malaysia, and we’re doing a large project in Saudi Arabia. In every country, it has been a process of starting with a couple of ponds, and then customers adding more and more ponds as the system proves itself. We recently did a customer survey in which we asked customers about the growth, feed conversion and other benefits of using the sound-feeding system. We received production data from ponds ranging in size from a half hectare all the way up to 24 hectares and stocking densities ranging from 8 postlarvae per square meter to 300 per square meter. Across all of those customers, the average was a 23 percent improvement in growth rates and a 20 percent reduction in feed conversion ratios. What’s happening in New Caledonia is an example of how the system is being adopted around the world. We started with one guy with one pond about three years ago, and now 60 to 70 percent of the farmers are using the AQ1 System in their ponds.
Shrimp News: Can a small-scale shrimp farmer in Vietnam or Thailand reap the benefits of the AQ1 System?
Ross Dodd: I would say, “He can’t afford not to put in a system like ours!” We feel that anyone, regardless of the size of their farm, can reap the benefits of our system. It doesn’t matter if it’s one hectare or one thousand hectares, they all get the same benefits of better growth, lower feed conversion ratios and higher survivals and larger harvests.
I was in the salmon farming business when sensor-based feeding came in, and it soon became standard operating procedure. The salmon farming industry invested $800 million over a ten year period to convert 90% of its farms, and we expect the same thing to happen in the shrimp farming industry. The salmon industry is more corporate, with bigger organizations, and that’s why we’re not surprised to see the system adopted in Ecuador, where there are more industrial-scale farms than in Asia, for example.
A small-scale shrimp farmer in Asia may be using automatic feeders with timers, but most farmers don’t have a closed-loop, acoustic-control system like ours. A small-scale farmer with feeding trays in four ponds has to adjust his automatic feeders five or six times a day, and he has to pull his feed trays up a couple of times a day to see how the shrimp are feeding—and then make a guess at the future feeding rate. This takes a lot of time and labor. If he decides to expand, his labor costs can get out of control. In the past, farms in the Western Hemisphere had trouble competing with the farms in Southeast Asia, but with our system they could become the lowest cost producers in the world!
Shrimp News: Regis, you’re heading up the sales effort for the AQ1 System in Latin America. How’s it going?
Regis Bador: Ecuador has become a great market for the system, thanks to Attilio and his team. I’m focusing on Mexico, which is a good market now because it is recovering quicker that expected from the disease epidemic that hit it in 2013. Already, farms there have ordered systems and many others are inquiring about the system. We will be installing the first system in Mexico in April 2016.
In Mexico, they know about the system, but there are still many questions that have to be answered before a farmer makes a purchase. We take them by the hand and tell them everything they need to know about the system. We explain the economics of the system and let them know how much money they can expect to save by installing a system. There are no surprises after they purchase the system.
Shrimp News: Do you help the farmers with financing?
Regis Bador: We don’t right now, but we are investigating that option.
Shrimp News: Attilio, how big is your farm, and how many of your ponds use the AQ1 System?
Attilio Castano: My farm is 220 hectares and all of our ponds use the sound feeding system—100%. We started in January 2015, and right now we’re in the process of doubling the feeding capacity of the system on the farm.
Shrimp News: Did you start small and then go big?
Attilio Castano: No, we started with about ninety hectares in January 2015 and by April or May 2015, we had the system on 180 to 190 hectares. This year we finished all 220 hectares. Now we’re in the process of adding extra feeding capacity to the system. The system paid for itself with the first crop!
Shrimp News: Do you expect all the large corporate farms in Ecuador to adopt the AQ1 System?
Attilio Castano: Right now many of the large Ecuadorian farms are investing in the system, but we have limited the number of units that can be installed in Ecuador to 25 per month because that’s all we can keep up with right now until we expand further. At that rate, it will take ten years to have units installed on all of the farms. Yes, I think the entire industry will be using the AQ1 System in ten years.
Shrimp News: Does it take much training to get the farm employees up to speed on your system?
Attilio Castano: When we do an installation, we hold the customers hand for a full year. So at the beginning, the customer is calling in every day as they learn the system. Since we’re also monitoring the system online, we can usually answer all his questions in real time. Usually, within two or three months, they learn all they need to know about the system and their calls drop off to almost nothing.
Regis Bador: Each of our customers has WhatsApp (a computer-based instant messaging service) so users can exchange information with us and all the other users at the same farm and get their problems resolved in real time.
Shrimp News: Regis, in Mexico will you have someone that acts as a sales agent for the system, someone who is doing what Attilio is doing in Ecuador?
Regis Bador: We have recently appointed Acuiprocesos as our Agent in Mexico, and I will be assisting and training them to become an independent sales and support service. This will be similar to the my role with Attilio in Ecuador.
Shrimp News: Ross, is there always someone on hand at your company that can help customers with special problems?
Ross Dodd: Yes, they can always call us, or our agents or use WhatsApp to get problems resolved. We tune in to the WhatsApp discussion and so do our agents and many of the managers and owners of the shrimp farms. It’s a very active messaging system.
Shrimp News: Ross, what can you tell me about the cost savings between your feeding system and traditional feeding systems?
Ross Dodd: On average, you’re looking at a FCR reduction of 20%, and in large ponds, it can be more than that.
Attilio Castano: The primary benefits of AQ1 System in Ecuador is faster growth rates, lower FCR and increased production per hectare. There is also better survival rates and management control which all reduce cost of production and increase revenue.
Shrimp News: What is the payback period on the equipment?
Ross Dodd: Anywhere from three months to eight months.
Shrimp News: Attilio, how many AQ1 units do you install per hectare?
Attilio Castano: We don’t base the number of AQ1 units we install on the number of hectares. We base the number of units installed on the pond biomass. Usually one AQ1 control unit is required for the production of 15–20 metric tons of shrimp. Our farm started installing AQ1 units in January 2015. We’re getting growth between one-and-a-half and two grams a week and harvests between three thousand and six thousand pounds per hectare. Depending on the length of growout, we harvest animals between 16 grams all the way up to 40 grams.
Shrimp News: Regis, you’ve started marketing the system in Mexico. Have you started marketing it anywhere else in Latin America?
Regis Bador: The system is in operation in several Latin American countries, but we’re focusing on getting established in Mexico over the next 6 months because it’s rapidly recovering from disease problems and has the funds to invest in productivity improvement. Because the majority of Mexico’s shrimp farming industry produces only one crop a year, if we miss the first crop in 2016, we’ll have to wait until next year to get started in Mexico.
A point that has not been made is that the AQ1 System requires very little energy. It operates totally on solar power! Attilio’s system in Ecuador operates completely on solar energy.
Ross Dodd: We can dial into that solar powered controller and see what it’s doing every second of the day, and the farmer can do the same thing from his smart phone or office computer. During start-up, we look at the data coming in from a farm just to make sure everything is okay. We can check to see if the farm has put the hydrophone in the right place from a thousand miles away. We can see if they have wired everything up correctly. We send information back to the farmer so that he can continue to improve his feeding practices.
Regis Bador: Here, look at my smart phone, that’s what’s going on at a farm in New Caledonia right now. The oxygen level in this pond is 6mg/l and the temperature is 27°C. The pond has received 13 kilos of feed this hour and 154kg since the beginning of the day. We even know which side of the pond the shrimp are feeding on.
Shrimp News: Where is the equipment manufactured?
Ross Dodd: Our main office is in Hobart, Australia.
Shrimp News: How about weather? Does temperature or precipitation affect the performance of the system?
Ross Dodd: The only weather that affects the system is heavy rain, which can drown out the sound of the feeding shrimp, but the system has a built in rain sensor, and we have figured out a smart way of feeding the shrimp until the heavy rain stops.
Shrimp News: Ross, your system turns automatic feeders on and off. Can it also turn aerators on and off?
Ross Dodd: Yes, the system turns aerators on and off depending on dissolved oxygen levels. Intensive farms really like that feature. We also continue to upgrade the software and now make it available in English, French, Thai, Spanish and soon Vietnamese.
To get on the mailing list for AQ1’s newsletter, contact Ross Dodd at the address below:
Information: Ross Dodd, Managing Director, AQ1 Systems, 1/110 Murray Street, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia (phone +61-0-3-6234-6677, mobile +61-0-419-386-526, fax +61-3-6234-6622, email email@example.com, webpage http://www.aq1systems.com).
Source: Regis Bador, Attilio Castano and Ross Dodd. A Shrimp News International Interview by Bob Rosenberry. World Aquaculture Society Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (February 22–26, 2016). March 10, 2016.
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