By Jordan Richart
For The Republic
The owner of the only aquatic farm in Jackson County has no problem sharing his knowledge of raising rainbow trout for profit.
“We have an open barn policy — meaning, call me up and I’ll be glad to show you,” said Mike Searcy, owner of White Creek Farms of Indiana.
In the past, 4-H groups, classes and even the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s agribusiness tour have visited the farm northwest of Seymour.
“I want people to see what we do and how we do it, and I want to generate interest,” Searcy said of his operations, which began in 2012.
The farm currently has 19,000 fish in its barn, but there are times when there may be as many as 30,000 fish — from fry (juveniles) to market-sized fish.
The farm operates in Cortland on a five-generation farmland from his wife’s family.
The barn houses 10 large tanks of market-ready fish and smaller tanks and a nursery for younger fish. He raises the fish from eggs shipped from Washington state.
“I don’t look at anybody in this industry as competition, and if we had another trout farm open up in Jackson County next week, I’d say more power to them,” he said adding he has let local farmers in Jackson County shadow him to see if they’d be interested in starting a similar operation.
Each Wednesday, Searcy delivers 150 pounds or more to Bluefin Seafood in Louisville. The company processes the fish and distributes it to seafood restaurants in Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and other areas.
He has his sights set on delivering 600 pounds of rainbow trout each week once he can reach that production level.
A system to re-circulate water reduces usage, and Searcy has developed a system in which the water cleans itself.
“We have to save our resources,” he said.
“The water that we pump from the aquifer is filtered to remove high concentrations of iron and manganese,” he said. “This high quality water is first used in our hatchery for fry production. That same water is then used in the nursery re-circulation system.”
The water is constantly being oxygenated and filtered through mechanical and biological means. The nursery area operates on its own system while the grow area operate on the same type of system, just on a larger scale.
Searcy uses a mechanical filtration system which includes settling filters followed by a microscreen drum filter.
Both require water for flushing and cleaning. The waste is pumped into geotextile bags that traps solids and many compounds, reducing phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the educated water. The waste trapped in the bags can then be used as a gardening compost or field applied for crops.
Water is then run through a biological filter to reduce nitrate levels.
“Even low levels of nitrites can be toxic to fish,” he said.
Water is then pumped back into the fish tanks giving them cleaner, oxygenated water, and providing a current for the fish to swim against. That same current helps in the self cleaning of solids from the culture tanks, he said.
Searcy only loses about 10 percent of the water through evaporation, splash and other means. He’d like to try to use the wasted water for irrigating crops.
“Before any water is put into the ditch every effort is taken to reduce waste and nitrogen levels,” he said. “Future plans would be to directly apply used water to crops through irrigation but at present quantities are minimal and do not allow for the expense.”
Searcy said he has also explored operating on solar power and would be interested in it if it was more affordable.
“The payout prevents me from being able to do it, and we as a society are just not there yet,” he said.
The farm contains a small processing facility, but Searcy said he is not at a point where he wants to do that because there isn’t a need to yet with Bluefin doing all the processing.
Searcy has worked in a variety of industries throughout his life but is retired now except for raising rainbow trout.
He wanted something to do to generate an income in retirement and became interested in aquaculture when he went to Ohio and saw a farm.
“I thought I could do it,” he said. He began scouring the internet for ideas on how to get started. “There wasn’t much out there at the time and now there is is so much more.”
Now that he knows most of the terminology, he can research a lot more. All he was looking for was an idea to begin his venture.
“It’s just like anything else, you just find a basic set of principles and theory of operation and build off that,” he said. “I know where to find the research now too.”
As he observed, he knew the operation could be small and grow as much as he wanted.
“It was something I could start small and build,” he said, adding his work in construction, hydraulics, electrical work and other areas helped him start. “I didn’t see anything too daunting that kept me from it.”
Searcy said he enjoys the work and has a sense of pride when people show an interest.
“The biggest reward and seeing what we have in this building and saying, ‘Wow and that there’s a lot going on here,’ and they feel it’s unique,” he said.