Fridi Mellemgaard and Gustav Staehr planned to build Denmark’s very first land-based shrimp farm. That was three years ago, before they ran up against the massive scale of the challenge and realised that instead, there was a major gap to be filled.
The gap? Data.
“Given there was no technology out there… and given our technical background, we decided to build the technology instead,” Faroese national Mellemgaard told IntraFish.
That technology today takes the shape of a biomass monitor, a simple-to-use device installed in a shrimp pond that feeds information back to a farmer’s mobile phone.
“We partnered up with farms in Germany and Norway in order to identify what was really going on and during that research phase, we discovered a lot of problems in the industry that could be fixed with technology,” said Mellemgaard, echoing the thoughts of several industry leaders over the last couple of years.
Sincere's device feeds information to farmers across several parameters, monitoring the shrimp’s intestines to inform a farmer when to feed, identifying disease, giving daily growth rates and an indication of when the farmer can expect to harvest.
“If we detect that white spot disease has been detected in one of the shrimp, for example, we give a high alert to the to the farmer to isolate that point immediately before it spreads,” said Mellemgaard.
"The biggest challenges that are documented are of course diseases and feed management but without having the inside track on the biomass, you have no way to control disease or know when to feed."
'Big buttons and round numbers'
Since launching the project, Mellemgaard and Staehr’s company, Sincere Aquaculture, has closed 25 pilot programs all around the world to verify its solution works across all geographies. It also recently closed a round of funding that brought in €1 million ($1 million) that will allow it to build the critical infrastructure needed to make the technology affordable.
“So we know that our solution is something that everyone wants,” said Mellemgaard. “It's just a matter of how we do it, so that it's very affordable and extremely simple to use. Most of the people that are going to use it don't have that much technical knowledge so we take all of this into account.”
And that has been the big challenge -- to make a system simple enough that it can be accessible to even the smallest shrimp farmer in the most remote location. As such, the device does not even need a network connection to work.
"You could say it's big buttons and round numbers. So it's very simple, and that's the hard part from our side. It's making it simple," said Mellemgaard.
The monitor is uncomplicated by any additional environmental monitoring, with the duo's model one that encourages partnerships with other equipment and technology already available on the market.
While several of these partnerships are already in place with Sincere, the pair is not ready yet to officially share who they are.
Preparing for the future
Sincere's technology will also help farmers meet traceability requirements that are bound to start coming from Europe.
"We count everything coming from hatchery to nursery to grow out and it's that number which is very important when you start doing traceability, also the health of the batch from which it came," said Dane, Staehr.
"It's a bit further ahead, but we're making the farmers 'transferability ready,' you could say."
As for the pair's shrimp farming ambitions, for now they are shelved.
While the market gap is still there - Denmark is the largest per capita consumer of shrimp in Europe - Mellemgaard and Staehr believe they have found a more pressing niche.
Importantly, it is a niche that seems to resonate with the industry. The company already has interest from several big players in Ecuador as well as partnerships in India and beyond with farmers, technology suppliers and feed companies.
The fragmentation of the industry will of course create a challenge for Sincere, but this is where its partnerships and networking come into play.
"For India, what we have discovered it's very important that there is trust. So we will start implementing it in our partner farm and then the others can see it because that's how it works. They need to see it and trust it," said Mellemgaard.