Johan Verreth: "Looking for pearls and sparks”

Tension rises in the Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge. Great ideas for feedtech innovation keep pouring in. With the Challenge well underway, it is time to present the jury members who will eventually pick the winner(s) of the Challenge. In this blog, jury member Prof. Dr. Johan Verreth of Wageningen University explains why aquaculture is in dire need of what he describes as ‘lucid, clever, out of the box ideas and concept”.

As a professor Aquaculture and Fisheries at Wageningen University, I have high hopes of the entries that I will be reviewing. I expect to find new concepts and ideas from researchers and research institutes, rather than elaborate and fully detailed product plans that only require funding to go to market. I hope the Challenge brings forward fundamental insights and knowledge that translate into new, lucid ideas for applications that no one has ever thought of.

The winning idea does not need to be grand and Nobel Prize material. For example, in aquaculture many bright minds have tried to find effective and efficient ways to grow duckweed and to process it to become part of the feed used in aquaculture. Solutions for specific problems including duckweed or algae or insects in fish feed may each contribute to the solution of feeding the world in the decades to come.

I have been involved in the aquaculture arena for nearly forty years now. For as long as I can remember, growing algae and harvesting them in an economical way has been a challenge. Any researcher or startup that comes up with a brilliant approach – not even an elaborate solution – to this challenge could be on to something. In fact, the winner of this Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge could be a team of students that deliver the sole jigsaw puzzle part nobody has thought of before…

I hope to find ideas that help us find solutions for the worldwide shortage of fish oil, more specifically in fish oil fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Fish farms increasingly apply vegetable fatty acids, unfortunately with the result that the ‘health bonus’ at consumption decreases. The fish needs the fish oil fatty acids to maintain its added value – we are actually turning the salmon into a vegetarian! In twenty years, the level of fatty acids in fish farm salmons has been halved, mainly because their feed includes soy oil instead of fish oil. We need new, affordable and sustainable sources of fish oil fatty acids.

I can imagine that the entry we dream of is only half-finished, with some scientific and practical challenges. An interesting idea with clear potential that has not been tested fully and needs enrichment. Great, I’d love to find it among the entries.

There are many start-ups and small companies that, in their own way, try to find ways to raise nutrient levels in fish feed or to improve growing conditions in fisheries. They may be businesses that find themselves stuck because they lack the time, the expertise or the funding to take their ‘pearl’ to the next hurdle. The Nutreco Feed Tech Challenge invites them to step forward with ideas that are worth taking to a next level.

I obviously cannot predict the outcome of the Challenge. But I do hope to find the ‘pearl’ or ‘spark’ that makes me and other jury members say: “Wow, why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?”