BLOMKEST — A major expansion at a rural Kandiyohi County farm that raises salt-water shrimp is tentatively scheduled to take place this year.

Plans by Simply Shrimp, LLC, for a high-tech, bio-secure facility will “substantially” increase production of the popular seafood grown at the rural Blomkest farm, said owner Paul Damhof.

Once the facility is running at full speed, Damhof said he expects to produce enough shrimp to not only meet the high local demand but also allow the company to sell to restaurants and wholesale commercial outlets.

Currently, most of the shrimp is sold to local customers who drive to the farm, located south of Willmar on U.S. Highway 71. Usually the Simply Shrimp sign at the end of the driveway says “sold out.”

“It really hurts when they come up and ask for shrimp and we have to say we’re sold out,” said Phillip Damhof, Paul’s dad, who had operated a dairy farm on the site before Paul started raising shrimp in a converted calf barn in 2016.

A feasibility study completed in 2018 indicated an expansion would be profitable and Paul Damhof has been putting the pieces of the proposed project together since then.

Damhof said he’s been working with a team of people from 13 states on the plan.

“We’ve taken some of the elite of the elite people, put them together on the team and that’s why we are excited,” he said. We’ve got a good team in place.”

During a tour Tuesday with Minnesota Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen, State Senator Andrew Lang and Rep. Tim Miller, Damhof said he’s still waiting for final approval of permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Permits from the Department of Natural Resources have already been secured.

Miller said because there had been nothing to define salt-water aquaculture in Minnesota, legislation was approved last year that will help make Damhof’s expansion project possible.

Miller credited Petersen and the Ag Department for providing the language for the technical changes needed in the state law that will “enable” Minnesota farmers, like Damhof, to produce salt-water shrimp.

Damhof’s successes so far with raising shrimp, and his plans to expand, have gotten world-wide attention. He’s given tours to local church groups, 4-H clubs and people from Germany and Greece. He has been fielding inquiries from a number of big-name companies and entities offering technical advice or services and has developed a friendship with a San Francisco 49ers football player who initiated a call with Damhof because of his interest in sustainable agriculture.

“The outreach has been bigger than what was anticipated,” Damhof said.

He said people want to see “why the heck we have a shrimp farm in the middle of Minnesota” and learn “how we’re bringing the ocean environment” to a former dairy farm. “You can’t get any further from the ocean then where we’re at,” Damhof said.

The group had a meeting after the tour with the contract manager – TerWisscha Construction of Willmar – where media was not allowed. The meeting was expected to include discussion of details of the project, like patent-pending designs and other proprietary information.

Always willing to provide tours and talk to people about raising shrimp, Damhof was reluctant to share too many details about the proposed expansion at this time.

We’ve just got to make sure every “I” is dotted, every “T” is crossed before we break ground, as far as permits go,” he said.

“Being that this is a new industry in Minnesota, we’ve got to take a careful and cautious approach,” Damhof added. “We just want to make sure that when we do it, it gets done correctly.”

The current set-up at Simply Shrimp includes a number of above-ground swimming pools that bubble with water where shrimp of varying sizes grow, coming to maturity in 90 to 120 days.

The new facility, which will be built on the same farmsite, is expected to have high-tech air, ventilation and feeding systems that are currently not being used in commercial shrimp farms.

“I’m excited about this project because we’re going to be changing things up substantially,” Damhof said. “It’s a whole new concept, a whole new idea and we are very excited about it.”

He hinted at one major change that’s already started.

Typically Damhof gets his shrimp larvae, which he said are about the size of “an eyelash with two little eyeballs,” from Florida or Hawaii. For the first time, he is now raising a batch of baby shrimp hatched here in Minnesota.

He wouldn’t say where that farm was located, but said getting babies grown in Minnesota means a shorter transportation time and a quicker acclimation to the water at Simply Shrimp.

Petersen said he’s excited about the Simply Shrimp expansion. “I think it’s great. I’m always excited to see things like this that are so positive, because I think there are so many challenges in agriculture,” he said.