Aiming for aquafeed self-sufficiency Feed is the main challenge facing Russian aquaculture

Russia is set to ramp up aquafeed production nearly tenfold to 525,000 tonnes by 2030 to make fish farmers less dependent on imports, reports Vladislav Vorotnikov.

The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the problem of expensive imported aquafeed. Quarantine measures introduced in China and the European Union to slow down the spread of the virus pushed prices on the Russian market up, while depreciation of the Russian ruble has further worsened the problem.

Expensive feed was the main challenge Russian fish farmers had to face even prior the pandemic.

The main challenge for industrial fish farming in Russia is feed, said Nikolay Senin, general director of the Russian aquaculture producer Volgorechenskrybhoz, commenting that imported feed is expensive, while Russian products are cheaper, but are of lower quality.

The expense of imported feed has made commercial production of certain species, such as carp (Cyprinus carpio) in Russia loss-making, said Alexander Ginisburg, general director of aquaculture producer Smolenskrybhoz. This is the reason why fish farmers were shifting from growing carp in warm water to growing trout (Salmo gen.), sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) and some other valuable fish species, he added.

The problem with the Russian aquafeed is that quality from a single supplier can vary from batch to batch, commented a source in the Russian fish farming industry who preferred to not be named, commenting that some Russian products are good and great improvements have been in formulations during the past few years, but they are yet to catch up with the premium imported brands.

Most Russian aquafeed has low nutritional value, crumbles easily, has low water resistance, plus some ingredients are frequently replaced with cheaper and lower-quality feedstuff and there are cases of non-compliance with the feed formulation, this source explained.

The problem of expensive aquafeed has even prompted the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries to introduce a programme of soft loans for farmers to purchase feed. Under this initiative, farmers could obtain a loan in a state-owned bank at the interest rate of 3% to 6%, instead of the usual 10% to 12% terms.

For Volgorechenskrybhoz, that programme was one of the main factors driving the growth in production performance in the past few years, said Nikolay Senin.

According to the Moscow-based think tank Euroexpert, import-dependence on aquafeed in Russia is close to 75%, reaching even 93% in some years. The demand for feed for valuable fish species in Russia is expected to reach 280,000 tonnes in 2025. In 2019, Russian companies produced only around 50,000 to 65,000 tonnes of feed in this industry sector.

Focus on salmon feed

Russia is going to become self-sufficient on aquafeed by 2030, when the production is expected to reach 525,000 tonnes per year, stated the Russian Agricultural Ministry when it introduced a fish complex development programme adopted in December of 2019. By that time Russian fishing companies are expected to have established infrastructure to process 1 million tonnes of fish annually. This would be enough to manufacture 150,000 tonnes of fish meal and 120,000 tonnes of fish oil; volumes that should become a basis for booming aquafeed production in the country, the Ministry said.

As of today, import-dependence on feed for fish farms breeding salmon and trout species in Russia is close to 100%, the Ministry said, stating that establishing a new fish feed production industry would secure co-operation between fishing and fish farming industry. This scheme is also predicted to generate a new industry sector in Russia with companies engaged in both fishing and aquaculture.

The new strategy is primarily focused on salmon production. In 2014, Russia banned fish import from the European Union, so supplies of salmon dropped by as much as 130,000 tonnes per year  – or 30%, driving up retail prices. By 2030, the Ministry of Agriculture hopes to see numerous salmon farms established in the Russian Far East, as well as feed mills, with predicted production of 330,000 tonnes of feed per year.

The overall investments in the ​Russian salmon growing industry during the coming decade should reach Rub80 billion ($1.2 billion), the Ministry estimates.

The development programme set an ambitious target to boost value-added production of the Russian fish industry by 71% during the coming decade to Rub418 billion ($5.9 billion). By 2030, aquaculture production is expected to grow by a factor of 2.6 to 618,000 tonnes, contributing to this added value.

Filling the gaps

Some Russian companies have already promised to participate in the new programme, investing in projects predicted to make the Russian aquaculture industry self-sufficient in aquafeed.

Kaliningrad-based company Sodruzhestvo plans to invest Rub2.8 billion ($45 million) to build a protein concentrate plant in Kaliningrad Oblast and make it operational by 2024, said the region’s economic development minister Dmitry Kustov. With a planned production capacity of 510 tonnes per day, this plant is expected to focus on fish farming industry, he added.

Sodruzhestvo director Alexander Shenderyuk-Zhidkov said that this will be the world’s largest production plant for protein concentrates.

There are also several projects expected to provide alternative components to the Russian aquafeed market. Russian company Zooprotein is embarking on a project to produce feed protein out of food waste. According to Zooprotein’s deputy development director Alexey Istomin, the price of fish meal on the global market may soon reach $2000 per tonne and fish farmers have no choice but to look for alternative source of raw materials.

He commented that a promising option is to produce feed protein from insects, and there are several such projects in progress in Russia.

New feed mills are expected to be built in Russia during the coming few years. The Astrakhan-based Fish Feed Company has recently announced plans to invest Rub1.3 billion ($22 million) in a new fish feed plant with a  predicted annual production capacity of 50,000 tonnes.

The company claims it has formulations that include soya, rapeseed and cottonseed meal, as well as feather flour and meat and bone waste from poultry processing. The degree of protein digestibility is promised to be up to 86-92% –although there would be a dependence on imported soya meal.

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