By Alta LeCompte
Las Cruces Bulletin
If you want to eat shrimp raised in Las Cruces, you’ll have to seek out Ragin’ Shrimp in Albuquerque, the first restaurant in the state to add New Mexico State University’s Pacific shrimp to its menu.
A trip to Albuquerque may be worth it just for the shrimp. You’ll feel good for several reasons.
Tracey Carrillo, assistant director of New Mexico State University farm operations, told an audience of Primetimers Tuesday, June 17, the “little hole in the wall wants to promote fresh and local.”
“There’s no comparison with frozen shrimp that took a long boat ride to get here,” he said, alluding to the fact that 90 percent of the shrimp sold in the U.S. is imported, mostly from developing countries in Asia. “It may have been grown next to an outhouse or a sewer plant.”
On the other hand, NMSU shrimp are grown under close monitoring in pools at a research center. They eat meal made from the seeds of glandless cotton grown in the Mesilla Valley and at other research sites.
If you’d like to buy fresh New Mexico shrimp – arguably the best tasting – while voting with your dollars for agriculture that’s local and sustainable, you may soon have options in Las Cruces.
Carrillo said NMSU’s New Mexico Shrimp Co., which sells to Ragin’ Shrimp, is about to scale up.
An investor is looking to build 10,000-square-foot production facility on the West Mesa. The reconstituted New Mexico Shrimp Co. would acquire a license from the university, Carrillo said.
He said negotiations with the city are under way, so launch of the venture is probably “three to six months out.”
A crop would be ready for market about four to five months after launch, Carrillo said.
Although there still are a number of unanswered questions about how the venture would be structured, there is no question about demand for New Mexico shrimp.
Carrillo said a study by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center has confirmed a vigorous regional demand for the product.
Interested potential customers include several Las Cruces restaurants as well as a supermarket chain with nine stores in El Paso.
The campus research facility also is scaling up, with bigger raceways, which should be welcome news to customers who watch Facebook for an occasional opportunity to buy shrimp on campus whenever a research project is completed.
Primetimers’ John Bigbee told fellow attendees at the June meeting he arrived at 7:50 a.m. for a shrimp sale Saturday, June 7, only to find them sold out.
Although he’s actively promoting the New Mexico shrimpindustry, Carrillo’s true passion is to help the state’s cotton industry by creating opportunities for value-added agriculture that includes shrimp, other foods and a whole lot more.
“Cotton seed may become the primary money generator, with the lint just a by-product,” he said.
The glandless cotton grown locally is free of the toxins found in conventionally bred cotton, so products of the plant can be safely ingested by humans and other animals. Researchers currently are developing ways to increase its yield so it can become competitive.
Cotton seeds – which he said look a lot like pine nuts – can compete with pine nuts, which sell for $40 a pound.
The seed is 32 percent protein, with 21 to 28 percent oil. After oil extraction, the remaining seed material is 52 percent protein.
“There’s a lot of value in there,” Carrillo said.
After oil is extracted, a protein meal remains that can be incorporated into “almost any food product,” he said.
Cottonseed butter is another opportunity to add value.
“They can make it taste just like Jif,” Carrillo said.
The company is supplying oil to the campus food service for use in frying. Oil – including habanero, cilantro, garlic and chile varieties – also is sold at local food stores. The seed oil is gluten free and contains no cholesterol or saturated fat. It’s production could become a local industry.
“Currently, there is no oil presser in this area, so we have to send our oil to Wisconsin to be processed,” he said. “Hopefully that will change as we develop the industry in this area.”
Carrillo said he has approached the Mesa Cotton Gin to start a product development operation.
“That way the cotton farmer can capture some of that benefit,”he said, noting growers get 80 to 90 cents a pound for cotton lint, far less than could realize from the sale of meal for human or animal food or oil for cooking.
Waste oil that remains after cooking oil is produced could become biodiesel for a pump to irrigate cotton fields, Carrillo said. Used oil from the campus restaurants’ fryers is picked up and made into bio-fuel to power two ATVs. Students make the remaining by-product, glycerin, into soap.
“We’ve added value to a by-product of a by-product,” he said. “The only thing left is water.”
With so many options for adding value, Carrillo is optimistic about the future of glandless cotton production in New Mexico.
“Eventually cotton will come back as a primary agricultural crop of New Mexico,” he said. “With significant value to farmers.”
Alta LeCompte may be reached at 680-1840 or alta@ lascrucesbulletin.com.
Pacific shrimp raised at New Mexico State University are being packaged and sold under the auspices of the student-run New Mexico Shrimp Co. in order to meet a growing demand, not just locally, but across the state.
New Mexico State University photo
Tracy Carrillo, assistant director of New Mexico State University farm operations, tells Primetimers – with value-added production of glandless cotton whose seeds can be used for human and animal food as well as edible and fuel oils – cotton could return to preeminence in New Mexico agriculture.
Las Cruces Bulletin photo by Alta LeCompte
One of two ATVs used on campus and powered by biodiesel fuel made from waste cottonseed oil discarded after being used in restaurant fryers.