Just beyond the small Italian health resort of Galzignano Terme, not far from Padua, a narrow gravel road branches off the main street. It leads to Eco-Farming, a vast complex on the grounds of a former nursery.
When you open the door to the start-up company’s main building, you are greeted by a gust of warm, humid air from inside. There is a subtle hint of fresh fish in the air, not unpleasant but rather delicate. Life has a funny way of playing itself out: Valentin Kager, an auto mechanic by trade, had previously worked at the former orchid farm as a technician. When this proved to be no longer profitable, he joined forces with marine biologist Nicola Scalise Luca and industrial engineer Alessandro Mich and the idea for Eco-Farming was born.
SINCE 2011, PRAWNS HAVE BEEN RAISED IN THE GREENHOUSES THAT FORMERLY HOUSED ORCHIDS.
PRAWNS REQUIRE A PATIENT HAND
The youthful company is flourishing rapidly. But that should be no surprise: conventional shrimp farming has fallen into disrepute since chemicals and antibiotics were used in basins that were much too densely packed as part of conventional shrimp aquaculture during the 1990s. According to the German Fish Information Center and the German Seafood Association, consumer trends are moving toward this type of prawn in any event. These shellfish are already the fifth most popular form of fish and seafood in Germany.
However, raising prawns is a challenge. The crustaceans are sensitive to the slightest degree of impurity or other disturbances. Valentin Kager: “It may be the case that we started four or five years ago. But our first breeding successes were only three years ago. We put the large facility into operation around two years ago.” Allesandro Mich adds: “We completed the major part of our work in December 2015. Now that things are up and running, we receive constant inquiries from investors who want to buy the company or acquire shares.” However, Eco-Farming has already chosen its partner and is now working with Bozen-based Wörndle Internetservice. Alessandro Mich: “At the moment, we are shipping our entire output to them. Wörndle takes over sales and delivery on our behalf.”
ECO-FARMING PLACES GREATE VALUE ON SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION: A VARIETY CALLED VANNAMEI, ALSO KNOWN AS “WHITE TIGER”, IS BEING FARMED.
Around 70,000 small prawns are delivered by a supplier in Florida twice a month. At that point in time the shellfish are just three weeks old. They first go through an acclimatization phase in small, darkened containers before the prawns are transferred to the larger basins. The water – to which high-quality sea salt is added – is filtered continuously. “When raising our prawns, we don’t use any form of antibiotics, pesticides or disinfectants,” explains the marine biologist. “This represents a clear difference from frozen imports from Asia.”
RESTAURANTEURS PRIZE THE AROMATIC PRAWNS
The shellfish must be of the very best quality in order to be able to obtain the relatively high price of up to € 50.00 per kilogram at which the prawns are sold–primarily to restaurants in Northern Italy, but also in Austria and Germany. They are prized by the restaurant industry in particular due to their sweet, fruity aroma. This delicate flavor, as well as the firm texture of the meat, is obtained through the use of natural, vitamin-enhanced feed. Prawns are an ideal food – rich in protein and minerals while low in calories and cholesterol.
The entire growing process takes six months. When the shellfish have reached a weight of between 18 and 30 grams, about one-half of the prawns are fished out of the basin and immediately packed into small boxes filled with ice. They are then sorted by hand and prepared for shipping. “Currently, we ship between 150 and 200 kilograms of prawns per week,” notes Nicola Scalise Luca. “However, by Easter we want to increase this to 500 kilograms.”
WÜRTH – A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
This expansion in shrimp production is also ultimately thanks to Davide Cuccato, who provides customer support for Würth in the Northern Italian region of Veneto (Venice). As Valentin Kager tells the story, it was Cuccato who worked hand-in-hand with the start-up as a problem solver during a few difficult times early on. According to Kager, Cuccato suddenly was at the door one day because he had seen that the lighting system was not working at the Eco-Farmimg building. “That saved us,” says the technician with a smile. “Since then, we buy a wide variety of products from Würth.” This includes screws and anchors, for example, as well as tools such as drills and chisels, ladders, protective clothing from Würth subsidiary Modyf and power tools such as angle grinders. The list also contains chemical products such as lubricants, greases, metal cleaners and disinfectants.
“We have a very friendly relationship,” says Valentin Kager, “and we always welcome Davide’s help and advice.” This is especially the case because Eco-Farming is entirely on its own in the region, “there is hardly anyone whom we can talk to if we have problems or need advice.” This makes having a reliable partner who is able to supply everything that is needed from a single source a decided advantage.
HAPPY PRAWNS & GREENHOUSE PARTIES
Davide Cuccato visits the trio from Eco-Farming twice a month – the three shrimp farmers also shop at the Würth branch office in Monselice (PD) in addition to buying products from the online shop. What about Würth won you over? Valentin Kager laughs: “Our sales rep Davide!” And of course the products. “It may be that we don’t buy everything from Würth. But some things have to have the right quality – and we get those things from Würth,” concludes the technician with a note of satisfaction.
Würth’s extremely committed sales representative Cuccato often lent a helping hand at Eco-Farming after hours or on Saturdays. In return, the trio of young entrepreneurs invite him to parties in the greenhouse now and again. Over the course of time, a relationship has developed between Würth and Eco-Farming that goes beyond a mere business relationship. It is a shared success story that is just now really starting to pick up steam.