Field of Dreams - Shrimp Farming

There's nothing like being your own boss.  You pretty much set your own hours and you get to keep most of the profits.  But, you also take all the risk.

Now  imagine if your business risk could endanger your home like a farmer's business depends on the weather.

The past few years of drought has forced a lot of farmers to look for alternative crops.  Tuesday Barry Davis looked at a unique crop that's allowing some cotton farmers to plow new "Fields of Dreams."

In the 19th century, cotton was Alabama's cash crop and future. At any time, on any day, riverfront's across the state were stacked with bales of the white gold.

In the 20th century, George Washington Carver working at Tuskegee University, experimented with the peanut and came up with more than 300 uses for the golden nuggets. Farmers began turning to the peanut as a cash crop as well.

Welcome to the 21st century and what may turn into liquid gold for some Alabama farmers - shrimp farming. Shrimp farmer Dickie Odom says, "I'm 80/20 on the confidence level. I think 80% this thing's going to work and I think it's going to be good."

Rafe Taylor, also a shrimp farmer, says, "This is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an industry. It's brand new." Odom and Taylor are two of five west Alabama farmers, raising salt-water shrimp 150 miles from the gulf.

"Well, there's saltwater in a good part of the "black belt" area, which runs all the way to Montgomery and past Montgomery into Macon County,"adds farmer Rud Schmittou. "It's not saltwater, like in the Gulf; if you drink it you can taste a little salt.

David Teichert-Coddington says, "He (Schmittou) found out that I had worked with shrimp in Central America for a number of years and said well, can we grow them here in our saltwater here? And I said there's really no reason why not."

Coddington and Schmittou are so confident in the venture they quit their jobs as fishery and aquatic specialists at Auburn University, invested a million dollars, and are building a shrimp farm.

The first year Dickie Odom and Rafe Taylor tried the shrimp farming they each started with a one acre pond.  Rain washed Rafe's pond away so they ended up with one pond and about 1,500 pounds of shrimp. The next year three other farmers got involved. All told those five farmers raised about 18,000 pounds of shrimp. This year they've expanded their operation to about 100 acres of water and hope to raise 300,000 pounds of shrimp.

For years, west Alabama farmers thought they were cursed with the water. "We fussed about it a lot. It rusts out everything you got. It rusts out the plumbing in your house. It rusts your equipment out when you wash it and all that stuff so don't many people like it."

At least five farmers see things a little differently now and have great hopes for their new Fields of Dreams. "The U.S. imports between $3-4 billion worth of shrimp a year, so market's not going to be a problem"