Within the last 5-8 years, a number of commercial off-bottom oyster farms have been established in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, with significant interest in Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. In Alabama, for example, there are currently 15 commercial oyster farms, all established since 2010. Though newly established and relatively small-scale, these oyster farms have established the potential for off-bottom oyster farming in the southern region.
These businesses have also found that there is a ready market in the region for locally produced, premium oysters. Despite these opportunities, this new industry faces significant challenges with regards to increasing production efficiency, improving product quality and consistency, assuring product safety, disaster preparation, permitting and marketing.
While we have offered a number of training classes and technical advice through partnerships (Auburn University, Alabama Cooperative Extension, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Alma Bryant High School and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium), I firmly believe that the best teachers for oyster farmers are other oyster farmers.
This peer-to-peer learning, or maybe in this case peer-to-pier, seems to provide the best opportunities for farmers to get new ideas, recognize costly mistakes and build partnerships.
Oyster South Symposium
With funding from the National Sea Grant College Program, we are supporting over 50 commercial oyster farmers from North Carolina around to Louisiana attend the upcoming Oyster South Symposium in Charleston, South Carolina. There, attendees will be able to hear from oyster farmers from successful operations in California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, again due in part to support from the National Sea Grant Program.
Registration, travel funds available
In addition to this meeting though, we are excited to have the opportunity to provide competitive funding to commercial oyster farmers in the region to support opportunities for oyster farmers in the southern United States to attend industry conferences and shows, as well as visiting peers in other parts of the country to pursue learning opportunities (funds may not be used to purchase seed or gear). Under this program, at least eight awards of up to $1,000 each will be provided.
To qualify, an applicant must be a current commercial off-bottom oyster farmer or enrolled in a formal training program. The applicant should clearly indicate the conference, show and/or farm/business visits proposed, with locations and dates noted, and provide a document with at least one written paragraph explaining what he/she hopes to learn from the proposed event and/or site visit and how the information will be used to improve his/her own business.
Finally, the applicant should provide at least one written paragraph indicating how the applicant will share the new information with his/her local colleagues (e.g., agreeing to share photos, delivering a presentation, contributing to an industry newsletter) and must agree to answer follow-up questions about the effectiveness of the learning experience in order to allow assessment of the effectiveness of this program.
Applications, and any questions, may be sent to Rusty Grice at email@example.com or mailed to:
Auburn University Marine Extension & Research Center
118 N. Royal Street, Suite 800
Mobile, AL 36602
Review, notification process
In 2018, applications will be reviewed by the Oyster South Advisory Board on February 15, April 1, May 15 and July 1, or until the funds are expended (whichever comes first). Applicants will be notified within two weeks of the review date. (Awardees will be required to register online as a vendor with Auburn University, and the funds will be awarded as a lump-sum honorarium after the travel is completed.)
For our region’s oyster farmers, this is an exciting opportunity. In the short-term, we expect that this program will 1) increase the knowledge of commercial oyster farmers in the southern United States and lead to 2) adoption of new techniques and methods in these businesses, that, in turn, result in 3) increased profit and/or production by the oyster farming industry.
In the long-term, we anticipate that this program will help build a thriving oyster industry that provides world-class oysters to a raw bar near you, for years to come.