Fish may feast on barley
Barley protein concentrate offers domestic, export opportunities
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Montana Microbial Products, based in Missoula, plans to build a processing facility to make barley protein concentrate for use as fish feed.
While it has also been developing other plant protein products, barley offers unique qualities, said Cliff Bradley, co-owner of the company and a microbiologist and biochemist.
Barley protein has the nutritional quality needed to replace fish meal, he said. Plus, barley is readily available.
Founded in 2002, Montana Microbial has been working with the USDA Agricultural Research Service for five years on plant-based proteins at its lab in Bozeman. It opened a pilot facility in Butte and provided protein samples for testing at the University of Idaho's Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station.
The company has also worked closely with Clear Springs Foods, which produces 20 million to 22 million pounds of fish for human consumption annually. With increased demand for fish and the rising cost of fish meal due to the depletion of ocean fisheries, Clear Springs is looking for a lower cost replacement for fish meal.
Clear Springs had success with small-scale testing of barley protein concentrate and is hoping to run a large scale test beginning this fall.
Montana Microbial's goal is to provide Clear Springs with the barley protein concentrate it needs through pilot production.
But it is also putting together the financing for commercial production and hopes to have a facility built in nine to 12 months, Bradley said.
The company has already chosen a site northeast of Great Falls in Fort Benton in a barley-growing region. The operation will produce 5,300 tons of barley protein concentrate a year and 2 million tons of ethanol from the barley waste.
While it won't be producing a lot of the protein concentrate, aquaculture worldwide uses 2.5 million tons of fish meal annually, a huge potential market. Japan has a major aquaculture industry and no barley. Protein concentrate could be produced in the West and exported to Japan, he said.
The plan for countries that have both fish and barley production is to build plants there, he said.
Montana Microbial had looked at two sites in Idaho over the past couple of years because of its fish and barley production but neither worked out. The lack of water availability in the Magic Valley nixed locating there and an effort to convert Simplot's defunct ethanol plant in Caldwell proved too expensive, he said.
"Montana Microbial was very serious about Idaho, and we were serious about getting it off the ground," said Kelly Olson, Idaho Barley Commission administrator.
The commission has remained engaged with Montana Microbial, ARS and Clear Springs to move efforts along. But it's been hard to put the financing together to build a processing plant, she said.
"We are bullish on it. It's something we think is very innovative," she said.
Once the first plant is built and the feed proves viable for fish producers, the commission anticipates many more plants, she said.
"Even if the plant's not here, there'll be big demand," she said.
"We think it's a good idea. It's a big market and a place we can add some value," Bradley said.