On March 23, Dorchester’s Economic Development Department hosted a meeting of 40 farmers for a presentation by Hurlock-based Marvesta Shrimp on the RDM Grower Program, a new franchise and production initiative the 10-year old company launched in partnership with Indiana-based RDM Aquaculture. Similar to Purdue’s poultry growers program, the new business model creates a network of shrimp farmer on the Eastern Shore.

Led by Marvesta Shrimp CEO Guy Furman, attendees learned how the company would partner with poultry growers and farmers to create a network of 10-20 shrimp farms in the next 12 months. Furman pursued this model to significantly increase shrimp production to meet increased demand for high quality, sustainably farmed product in the Washington and Philadelphia seafood markets. The company sells direct to restaurants, supermarkets and distributors.

“Since we are working with a smaller, less expensive, easier to use technology, there is now an opportunity for people to get into a new industry with a growing demand and make more money than with conventional agricultural products,” Furman explained, adding, “We hope this is the beginning of a new model in aquaculture and an economic boost for the entire region.

The two-hour forum included a comprehensive presentation by Furman and ample time for audience questions. Furman selected poultry farmers as targeted business partners because they often have the basic facilities and back-up power to house the four 3,500-gallon shrimp tanks and filtration systems each operation requires. Tanks are also suitable for green houses.

Marvesta will provide farmers with juvenile shrimp and bulk supplies from their nursery, coordinate tank installation, and manage marketing, sales and distribution of the product. Growers will sell their shrimp to Marvesta who will in turn sell them to seafood distributors. Start up fees for RDM partners are estimated at $50,000 and include upfront costs for the first six months operating expenses.

More than half the forum’s attendees – many from Dorchester — have already expressed interest in this business opportunity. Twelve have subsequently toured Marvesta’s Hurlock operation. Furman has sent the 25-page contract and financial overview to 20 prospective growers in the two short weeks since the inaugural presentation.

Aquaculture is a targeted industry sector of the county’s economic development office. DCED has worked with Marvesta, Chesapeake Gold Oysters and a tilapia farmer to harness the county’s strong agricultural and fishing industries with interest in locally produced and sustainable seafood.

For information on the RDM program, contact Guy Furman at 443-271-9387 or guy@marvesta.com