Page 30 - Food & Drink March 2020
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Dan and Bob Richards with two of their tasty barramundi.
Top of the class
In a remote part of the Northern Territory, Humpty Doo Barramundi is setting the standard for industry best practice in aquaculture. Kim Berry writes.
His solution was a system of saltwater wetlands to provide the fish with a constant supply of fresh saltwater. Two-thirds of the farm is wetlands.
“When we build fishponds, we develop a wetland area twice as big, then circulate water from the Adelaide River between the free-range fishponds and the wetlands. Microalgae and water plants then clean the water. We can go more than a year without having to release any water from the farm,” Dan says.
“We extract brackish water from the tidal river during the dry season and pump it into the wetland water treatment system that surrounds the production ponds.
“As the fish produce ammonia and nitrites, these metabolic waste products feed into the constructed wetland water treatment system where they’re filtered through vegetation and broken down and consumed by naturally occurring bacteria and microalgae.
“As wastewater moves through the wetlands nitrifying bacteria begin to colonise. These convert toxic ammonia and nitrites into nontoxic nitrates via oxidation. Once the nitrification process is complete, the water is exchanged back into the production ponds. Throughout this process aquatic microalgae and macrophypes consume waste products and form the basis of a food chain for small native fish and invertebrates.
“The constructed wetland performs to a standard where it can successfully maintain the conditions necessary for the maintenance and growth of over 3500 tonnes of barramundi each year with little to no exchange with the surrounding waters.”
HDBarra underwent a major expansion project in 2012, which culminated in its custom designed, HACCP-accredited chill and packing facility.
Hand sorting been replaced by a premium sorting and packing system to support harvesting techniques.
Its harvesting is aligned to quality assurance models to ensure premium fish are distributed every week in the best condition.
Dan says: “Our commitment to continuous improvement lead to innovative solutions, such as our world first ‘intelligent and responsive’ computer-controlled barramundi feeding system.
“Investment into the early stages of a barramundi’s lifecycle saw the development of the most technologically advanced barramundi fingerling production nursery in Australia, with higher success rates and healthier fish than ever before.”
The farm was the first Northern Territory recipient
of a Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) loan. Over the next five years, NAIF will provide a $28.7 million loan, which will be matched by HDBarra from external sources. A three-stage project will:
• build a solar generation
facility to initially generate two megawatts of electricity to reduce reliance on natural gas generated electricity;
• develop a specialised barramundi nursery to reduce bird predation and grow smaller farm-ready fish for other aquaculture farms for the first time in the Territory;
• introduce the Territory’s first automatic feed storage and distribution facility to protect feed from feral animals based on internationally recognised aquaculture technology; and
• build an ice making facility for product quality.
For Bob, the solar and
infrastructure investments will move the farm closer to being carbon neutral while enhancing HDBarra’s reputation as a leader in sustainable aquaculture.
“We have invested a lot in developing a premium saltwater barramundi that contributes $10 million to the Territory economy and can be found on the menus of restaurants across Australia and the world,” Bob Richards says.
The big picture goal is to expand the Australian grown barramundi aquaculture industry and see Australia become self-sufficient in barramundi supply. Currently around 60 per cent of barramundi consumed in Australia is imported. Growth of Australian supply would also removed import-associated biosecurity risks. ✷
THIS year, Humpty Doo Barramundi (HDBarra) will produce 3600 tonnes of saltwater barramundi for local and international markets. The farm is built on what was once degraded rice fields halfway between Darwin and Kakadu on a bend in the Adelaide River.
Owner and MD Bob Richards started out in 1993 with little money, no land and no knowledge of what might work. His son, co-owner and MD operations Dan Richards told Food & Drink Business Bob was a pioneer in the industry and made a significant investment into R&D with trial and error farming in an untried territory.
“We are passionate about our fish, environment and people. And we’re constantly striving to
learn, try new things and improve our practices. Because we are a family business, we are very long term in our thinking.
“Both Dad and I have an environmental management background, so environmental management was a passion from the beginning. We very much see ourselves as custodians on the land. We pride ourselves on our rigorous environmental management systems and have reduced our water discharge to almost nil. Our water treatment system is the first of its kind in Australia.”
The farm’s environmental credentials were recognised late last year when it won the Australian Government Landcare Farming Award at the NT Landcare Awards.
It is now in the running for national recognition at the 2020 Landcare Awards.
Soon after setting up the
farm in 1993, Bob Richards was selected for a
Churchill Fellowship and travelled the world looking at aquaculture. What he took away
from his travels, was that the key problem with fish farming was managing waste.
HDBarra supplies some of Australia’s top restaurants.
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