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2 min read

Meet Kam: Farmer and Fisherman

By Chip Terry on Jun 14, 2021 8:06:10 AM

Although BlueTrace software is great, the key to success is having folks like Kam Kim of Newport News, VA on the team.  

 

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Kam was a farm manager at Cherrystone, one of the largest farms on the east coast, growing millions oysters  before moving on to be the field logistics specialist for the oyster breeding program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

“I used BlueTrace when I was at VIMS,” said Kam. “Back then, we were spending hours and hours trying to find certain bags scattered about underwater. I can’t tell you how stressful it was trying to remember how to track my inventory and what I needed to do next. Once we used BlueTrace, every single bag was accounted for and we always could pinpoint the specific place to find the one we needed.”

Because Kam works with farmers all over the world, he is immersed in their day-to-day logistics. “You can keep track of when you planted the seed, how many bags you planted, when you need to check them, when to thin your oysters out, and pinpoint what time of year they’re growing fastest,” 

As he tells it aquaculture farmers have always tried to track their inventory in their heads, on wet, muddy notebooks, on whiteboards, and cobbled together with Excel sheets. “Shellfish are live animals; they need care and attention, and having to remember all of those little details to keep these animals alive can be very stressful,” he said. “It’s why we created this software because we had so many farmers tell us ‘I can’t manage all of this by myself.’ ”

BlueTrace’s Farm Manager software gives farmers complete control over every piece of data. Just using an iPad, they can see in real-time when the team completes a work task.

And BlueTrace comes with one more bonus: Kam. “I work with all of my farmers directly, one-on-one, whenever they need,” he said. “They can ask me any questions and find the shortcuts around mistakes I’ve already learned.”

From the shellfish farmer new to the business to the established farmer who
relishes data-driven reports, there is a high value for farmers to go home at the end of the day with complete peace of mind knowing that the Farm Manager tool hasn’t missed a thing. According to Kam, "Giving farmers free time to enjoy their lives is one of the most satisfying parts of the job"

Kam uses most of his free time to fish, hunt, and hang with his fellow oyster farmers.  Follow his Instagram to see the amazing catches he reels in every week. 

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4 min read

Meet a Distributor: War Shore

By Chip Terry on Jun 1, 2021 10:36:40 AM

warshore logo squareBrad Blymier started as a small pedestrian farmer on the eastern shore of Virginia over 12 years ago. Very quickly he realized  his natural gift for connecting with chefs and farmers and started helping neighboring farms sell their product. Within a couple of years, he decided to focus solely on the distribution side of the business.  Since then, War Shore has grown into one of the largest specialty shellfish distributors in the “DMV” (DC/MD/noVA). Today they deliver oysters, lobster meat, scallops, clams, mussels and other specialty creatures of the sea to a growing array of chefs and major supermarkets.  With their new Maine buying station (Maine Oyster Initiative) they are one track to buy over 1.5 million Maine oysters this year which is about 15% of their overall oyster sales.

We caught up with Brad to see what we could learn about distribution and what should farmers know about working with a distributor.

Why should a farm work with a distributor?

The majority of shellfish are sold through a distributor because it lets you (the grower) focus on what you do best…farming.  If you don't like making sales, fielding tons of small orders, maintaining trucks and drivers, delivering product, dealing with customer service, and worst of all, handling collections, you are probably best off working primarily with a trusted distributor(s).  The opportunity cost is great when a grower is trying to do both.

What kind of farms don't need a distributor?

I would say Small farms that produce just enough product for a few nearby restaurants don't need a distributor, or just might need a smaller in-state distributor like our neighbors at Upstream Trucking here in Portland, Maine.  George and Rick do a fine job outfitting Portland with quality product. If I were a local grower in the Casco bay, I would 100% put my eggs in their basket and let them place my oysters in Portland. But If you want to scale you need to get your product to different geographies--and for that you will probably need a distributor with a greater reach that serves multiple markets.  Doing this also puts your oyster in a different category competing with hundreds of varieties around the country and Canada.

What role does a distributor play? 

A good distributor is your sales and fulfillment team. They are out in the market, building relationships with that new chef, understanding what their needs are and delivering reliably for them. A good Shellfish Distributor always has their finger on the pulse of what sells, where it sells, and the price it sells for.

What distinguishes War Shore?

We don’t’ use the oyster as a trojan horse to penetrate a restaurant with the goal of selling them fish, or other products with a higher profit margin.  65% of our overall revenue is oysters.  We carefully vet farms and then create a curated Oyster Portfolio to present to our chefs and new prospects, and then we help manage their ongoing oyster program.  We are very proactive in the market, meaning that we do not wait for a chef to ask us to find a particular oyster, then seek that farm out and buy form them one time, or sporadically throughout the year.   Our approach is relationship driven.  If I start a relationship with your farm, I am making the commitment to buy from you 52 weeks of the year, or as long as you can supply me.  Rather than representing hundreds of farms, we focus on a limited amount of partners and build their brands with the buyers (chefs).  

What are the keys for working with a distributor? 

Be a good partner and expect the same from the distributor. This is a handshake, no contract business. If you say you are going to deliver 10,000 oysters every Monday, do that.  And if you agree on a price to sell your oyster to that distributor 12 months out of the year, do that.   Also, play the long game with a trusted distributor.  Do not get hung up on the perceived value of your oyster based on the price you charge for it.  A good Distributor will show you how a competitively priced oyster will go a lot further then a highly priced oyster in many markets outside of your state.  If you want to make more money on your oyster, work on creating a more efficient farm, and cut cost where you can.  I find success working with farms who create a consistent oyster, but more importantly can scale their farm exponentially without losing that quality of that oyster.  2021 has been a very bizarre year so far…oyster shortages everywhere, but this will not last forever.  Mid-late Summer growth will be putting an influx of oysters in the market late Summer and into fall/winter.  This is when you will need your partner distributors the most to kick in and help you unload oysters off your farm.  States like Maine are seeing lots of new farms coming online each year.  Farms that want to thrive and grow will need to look at a variety of revenue models, and it won’t be a “one size fits all”….in my opinion anyway.

How do I pick a distribution partner?

Interview them: Ask what they are going to do for you? Will they commit to purchases every week or is this a one-time purchase to fill an immediate need.?  What else in their portfolio? How many other oysters will be competing with yours in the same space?  There are only so many slots at every restaurant and you want to be unique.  Where do they sell geographically? Don't get hung up on just the price, that is only one part of the equation. And don't hesitate to ask for references.

How can a farm be successful?

Grow a great product, be fair on pricing, run an efficient operation, and build a few strong partnerships.

Final words of wisdom? 

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I thought Hershey's chocolate was the best in the world and could not understand how anyone could disagree.  I still think it is the best, but I understand that there are tons of other chocolates as good as, and surely better.  This is also very true with oysters.  It’s a very competitive landscape.  Partnering with a good distributor(s) can help you successfully compete in a ever growing market.

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2 min read

Insurance:  Recordkeeping Matters

By Chip Terry on May 20, 2021 7:10:10 AM

Below is a nice description of the new ELAP insurance program from the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. Farmers will be wise to heed their advice and keep good records.  

"Qualifying for any insurance program is going to require that you do a good job documenting your inventory - This makes a strong argument for investing in some software to manage your farm so you can show planting, harvest and background mortality rates. "

[Below is the email from ECSGA.  Please join them.  They do great work for the industry.]

The USDA Farm Service Agency has added farmed shellfish - (and other food fish and bait fish used to feed food fish) to the list of farmed crops eligible for the Emergency Livestock, Honey-Bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP). ELAP removes some of the challenging paperwork issues, raises some of the payment caps, and raises the payout ratio to 60% of your documented inventory loss for qualified losses. (90% for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, or beginning or veteran farmer or ranchers)  This is a far superior program to the FSA's Non-Insured Crop Disaster Program (NAP) - and the two programs can both be used to mitigate losses and provide indemnity from the same storm (ELAP also covers losses from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal surge, tornadoes and certain events not covered by NAP)

We would like to thank the National Aquaculture Association and especially members of the Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas Congressional delegations that responded to outreach by the Catfish Farmers of America, National Aquaculture Association, Texas Aquaculture Association, Redfish Farmers of America, Southern Illinois fish farmers, American Farm Bureau Federation, and Soy Aquaculture Alliance

 

Attached is a new ELAP fact sheet specific to these changes.  Note reporting requirements for application dates and for filing your crop acreage reports.  If I understand this correctly, it appears that access to the program is retroactive so if you had a significant loss in 2020 you might still be able to file a claim.

Industry leaders were invited to a webinar this morning to explain the program. We anticipate a webinar for growers to be announced shortly.

We would like to recognize and appreciate the responsive and thoughtful efforts of US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Under Secretary Gloria Montaño Greene, Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and the FSA staff. 

Note: Qualifying for any insurance program is going to require that you do a good job documenting your inventory - This makes a strong argument for investing in some software to manage your farm so you can show planting, harvest and background mortality rates.  There are several products available our newsletter.

 

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2 min read

Oyster Tracker is now BlueTrace

By Cat Ganim on May 17, 2021 6:26:21 PM

Canva Design DAEevCzstXgFour years ago, we had the idea of helping oyster farmers improve their operations.  Today, we have over 120 clients in 12 states and 4 countries. We have employees, investors and even won a major grant from NOAA. All this would not be possible without the support of so many.  Thank you!  

As we have grown, we have learned a ton. A few things keep sticking out to us:

  1. Labor Costs: For most farms and dealers, this is the single biggest cost.
  2. Regulations Matter: The cost of regulatory compliance is significant.  The cost of not complying with regulations is huge.
  3. Oysters aren’t everything: Mussels, clams, scallops, geoducks...are all growing industries and have many of the same dynamics.

Over the last couple of years the Oyster Tracker name began reaching its limits. Although the bulk of our business is Oysters, we have a ton of other shellfish going through our platform. Our fastest growing solutions are all around Traceability. 

Why change the Oyster Tracker name? 

  1. We are broader than Oysters. Oysters were a great place to start and will always be our home, but time to leave the harbor.
  2. Clients are asking us to help comply with regulatory requirements that apply to all shellfish and will apply to other seafood.
  3. Our technology has broader applications.
  4. We have broader aspirations.

Why BlueTrace?

  1. Blue = Ocean.  We care deeply about the health of our oceans, the people who make a living on it and the seafood consumers.
  2. Trace:  Tracking seafood from the tideline to the table builds trust with consumers, meets important regulatory requirements, keeps consumers happy, and grows the entire market. 

What does this mean in practice? 

  1. Improving Products: Our products will do the same things they do today and we'll keep  making them better, we'll just stop using the name Oyster Tracker and we'll start using BlueTrace
  2. A new website (you are on it!) and our emails will be from @blue-trace.com
  3. Cool schwag, like hats, stickers, and t-shirts. Let us know if you want one.
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1 min read

Printers & Supply Chains

By Chip Terry on May 5, 2021 9:09:47 AM

Supply Chains are the lifeblood of our economy.  From how a shellfish gets from the tideline to the table, to how a semi-conductor chip gets from a factory in Asia to a printer on a farm.  

As many of you know, We have been dealing with printer issues for the last few months.  Turns out we have the same issue as the Ford F-150 factories.  A shortage of inexpensive semiconductor chips is holding us up.  Fortunately we haven't had to stop production, we just had to switch printers. 

For our tagging and distributor clients, we will be shipping new Zebra Printers instead of the TSC printers we have been doing so far.  The TSC printers are great, but we we just can't get any. The Zebra printers are just as good so and seem to have a better supply. We are now certified resellers of both TSC and Zebra printers, giving us resiliency in this time of supply chain disruptions.  As always, they come with a 2 year warranty.  

As part of the switch, our line up of printers now includes:

1) Mobile printers: Ideal for printing less than 150 tags per day especially in remote locations. TSC Alpha 3r and Zebra 521Q.  The benefits of the mobile is they run on batteries for 2 days and are pretty durable (certified for 5' drops).  The drawback is the paper is thinner than other tags.

2) Industrial Printers: Ideal for printing more than 150 tags per day The Zebra ZT411.  The industrial holds ~760 to 950 tags per roll and prints on a thicker paper.  

Both printers work directly from the phone via Bluetooth--no need for cables.  Both use thermal printing so there is no smudging or ink to worry about.  You can easily switch between the two printer types: for instance if you want to print some tags on the boat and others back in the plant.  

 

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2 min read

Tag Printing 101—Say Goodbye to Preprinted Tags

By Chip Terry on Apr 19, 2021 8:47:00 AM

 

Forget Pre-Printed Tags: How Oyster Tracker Can Help Your Shellfish Farm Transition Into The 21st Century

Shellfish farms using pre-printed tags do their best to stay within FDA compliance, but it's estimated that up to 20% of shellfish packages are mistagged due to errors with pre-printed labels. On-demand label printing can help increase accuracy — and make it less likely that you'll end up dealing with hefty fines from the FDA due to mislabeling problems

Let's take a look at some frequently asked questions surrounding the on-demand tagging process. 

Q: What equipment does a business need to use Oyster Tracker's on-demand system for printing tags? 

A: Printing tags is simple. The process can be completed from any iPhone to our durable mobile printer. You won't need to invest in any special equipment beyond what Oyster Tracker provides. 

Q: Is the mobile tag printing system expensive?

A: On average, shellfish companies save 30% compared to the cost of pre-printed labels. Our systems use direct thermal printing, eliminating the need for ink, saving you even more money. 

Q: What happens if the mobile printer breaks?

A: We know what life is like on a shellfish farm: things can get messy. Our mobile printer is designed to meet your needs and can withstand drops of up to five feet. In the rare event that your printer does break, we'll immediately send you a loaner while we replace or repair your printer. All printers are covered by a two-year warranty. 

Q: Does it take a long time to set up the app?

A: If you can use standard iPhone apps, you can use this too. Legal language necessary for shellfish tagging is pre-programmed, making it simple for your and your employees to tap and print. 

Ready to Take the Leap into On-Demand Tagging For Your Shellfish Business?

If you're ready to leave pre-printed tags behind, you're making a smart move. At Oyster Tracker, we understand the ins and outs of the shellfish farming industry, and our tagging app can help to make printing tags as simple as possible for your business. We can't wait to chat and learn more about how we can work with you to streamline your tagging process. 

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1 min read

Cape Cod Farmers and Wholesalers

By Chip Terry on Apr 16, 2021 8:40:32 AM

One of the great joys of this job is visiting our clients.  Last week I visited a bunch on Cape Cod and got a couple of fun videos

A few things jumped out:

1) A Great Summer is Coming.  House rentals are through the roof.  Supplies are plentiful.  The demand is there.

2) Professionalization:  Many of the farms/distributors are starting to scale up and become more professional.

3) Farm Tours: Many of the farms are increasing farm tours both to generate revenue and to build relationships with their clients. If you are inclined this way, I highly recommend it. 

Stay well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 min read

Tell Your Story

By Chip Terry on Feb 2, 2021 10:01:11 AM

We continue to hear amazing stories from farmers.

  • The lobster men and women who have built great businesses growing amazing products. 
  • The Wall Street guy who found peace getting back to his roots. 
  • The ex-WNBA player who is out every morning at the crack of dawn tending her crop.
  • The young folks taking over the family business.

The list goes on and every farm has a great story to tell.  And consumers want to know:

  • Who grows my food?
  • Why are they doing it?
  • How do they do it?
  • What makes it so amazing? 

Telling your story moves you from that Buck-A-Shuck menu to the $3/shell menu.  

Many farmers have amazing websites, Instagram feeds, brochures, videos and the like. Using these tools is critically important for growing your business. We suggest starting small, but be sure to start.  Folks want to know your authentic story.  What makes you and your farm special? 

We just added another tool that should be helpful--and is really low maintenance: QR Codes on tags.

Every shellfish tag we print includes a QR code that links to more information about the product and the farm.  Now that chef, shucker, wait person, or end consumer can learn your story right on their phone.  

qrScanExample (1)marketing-1

 

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Virtual Tradeshow

By Chip Terry on Jan 15, 2021 4:54:18 PM

We did a virtual tradeshow with the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.  Over 90 people showed up!!

Thank you to ECSGA and Bob Rheault for amazing work they have been doing in these trying times.  The show was great for us, but really the power of these organizations is the work they do behind the scenes to keep the industry humming. If you have the means, please join your state or regional organization.  

If you want to see our presentation, visit our YouTube channel.  Enjoy.  

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1 min read

Good News from our Clients

By Chip Terry on Jan 13, 2021 1:02:14 PM

The Aquaculture North America just published it's latest magazine, and our clients are in two separate articles:

1) Shellfish Growers Embrace New Technologies, by Lynn Fantom, profiles growers like Ted Cooney of Madhouse Oysters in Maryland

Cooney took the plunge from Excel spreadsheets to white boards to farm management software quickly, too. When Maine-based entrepreneur Chip Terry demonstrated how a new platform was “like a second brain” to manage tasks from cleaning to tumbling, Madhouse Oysters became one of the first customers of Oyster Tracker. The program also helped Cooney analyze productivity. “I can even look at it from home,” he adds. 

2) A sidebar article: New FDA Rule Triggers Issues on How To Tag and Trace tracks the looming regulatory changes and how Oyster Tracker can help folks stay compliant.  Including the following:

For their operation, Calm Cove Oyster Company, Duane Fagergren chose the digital system launched by Oyster Tracker last spring and already in use at 50 farms. He enters information on his iPhone, which is then stored in the Cloud. A small, weather-resistant portable printer lets him print out a tag with a QR code that “makes regulators happy with the chain of custody.” And if requirements change again, he isn’t stuck with outdated tags. Oyster Tracker will easily make the edit. Although Fagergren says “change is challenging,” he adds, “This has probably been the best business investment we made this year.”

Thanks to both Duane and Ted for doing amazing work and helping us continually improve our products.  

You can read the full articles at Aquaculture North America

 

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3 min read

Working with Distributors

By Chip Terry on Sep 25, 2020 3:06:40 PM

tagsAlmost every farm starts out selling to local restaurants, but as they scale distributors (aka wholesalers) play an increasingly important role. You will make more money per shell at a restaurant, but there is a limit to how much restaurants can buy. If you are producing more than a few local restaurants and some consumers can absorb, you are probably going to need to work with distributors.  We've been talking to a lot of distributors lately and here are some of the things farmers should know.

To start with, understand the different types of distributors 

Global full line distributors: The Syscos, US Food and others who sell everything to everyone. Unless you are huge they are unlikely to be your customer directly. 

National/regional seafood wholesalers Companies like Stavis, Inland Seafood and Samuel & Sons sell everything from swordfish and lobster to tuna and oysters. They do a lot of volume in shellfish, but it is a small part of their business. Many of them are quite interested in carrying a range of product, but they may not be near your farm.

Shellfish Specific players: There are folks in most major markets that focus on being great at shellfish.  Companies like Pangea, War Horse, and Hog Island know a ton about shellfish and are always looking for great product.  They love having boutique farms with a good story and often run the oyster program for restaurants in major metropolitan areas.

Local buyers: In almost every region there are folks who buy from local farmers/harvesters and then sell either to restaurants or other distributors.  Many of these folks are also farmers themselves and do this as a sideline. They can be the easiest to work with.  

So what should a farmer do?  

1) Find your potential buyers.  Unless you have a truck and a cooling system, you need to find someone who will either pick up at your farm or you can drop off at easily.  Take a look at the Interstate Shellfish Shipper's List. Any company that ships across state lines must be on this list.  If you are going further afield, you may need to work with a local reshipper who can get your product to the distributor.

2) Build a Few Relationships: Find a few distributors who serve different markets that you can work with for the long haul. Find the hole in their product line you can help fill (are you unique based on your location, cost, story?). Don't stretch yourself too thin. You need to invest in the relationships.  Don't get overly caught up in a few pennies more or less for the product.  Better to move a consistent amount every week.

2) Don't sell to their customers: When you have a distributor, be careful to not sell to their customers.  No one wants to be undercut by the farm at a key account.

3) Build a brand: Have a story that is unique and well told. Promise the consumer something unique: The taste of Maine.  A sweet Chesapeake oyster with an especially deep cup.  A pacific gem that has been tide tumbled. Easy to shuck oysters.

4) Be Reliable: Distributors and restaurants want consistent sellers. If your product is only intermittently available they can't build that following.

5)Have a clean consistent product: A product that shows up with clean shells and no dead animals. If something goes wrong fix it quickly.

6) Help them Help You: Many of the better distributors will want to bring chefs on tours, train staff and generally help position your product. Be available and helpful.  

Bottom Line:  Distributors play an important role and most farms work with them.  Treat them well and they will be your best allies.  

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2 min read

Shellfish Tagging: It Works

By Chip Terry on Sep 9, 2020 2:19:44 PM

We started thinking about shellfish tagging about a year ago. We were watching 

image-5

folks waste valuable time filling out harvester/dealer tags, log books, and generally dealing with tons of paperwork.  After talking to a lot of farmers, dealers, regulators and reading the 487 pages of the Model Ordinance, we finally launched our tagging solution in March of 2020--right as every farm shut down for Covid.  Despite the headwinds of a global pandemic, we had 41 new clients in less than 6 months.

So what have we learned? 

1) Paperwork Sucks: Regulations exist for good reasons, but complying withImage from iOS (39) regulations is painful. No one became a farmer because they wanted to do paperwork. 

2) Most states are a little different:  despite the Model Ordinance most states have slightly different regulations (or interpretations of regulations). For example, Washington state wants you to collect water or animal temperature at harvest.  Florida wants to know what type of cooling you have.  Others want bulk tags handled differently. 

3) Paper is painful:  We (I) thought finding waterproof paper would be the easy part.  Turns out getting it on the right size rolls with the right perforation and in the right orientation is a lot harder than expected.  We sent 100s of useless rolls back to the factory. 

DSC00094The future is becoming more obvious.  Now distributors can scan in the tag information--saving them time and money.  The QR codes lets us pass extended information that folks always want but doesn't fit on the tag (say tasting notes or a farmer 

6_log

profile).  We can also make farmer's lives easier by making it easier to do state filings and in the future printing invoices and other associated paperwork.  

 

 

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1 min read

NOAA Grant: Tide to Table Traceability and Marketing System

By Chip Terry on Jul 9, 2020 10:38:17 AM

We won (a grant)!  In a stroke of great luck and a testament to the awesome team at Oyster Tracker, we have been awarded a grant from National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This federal grant is to prove the technical and commercial feasibility of an easy to use, and inexpensive system to track shellfish from farm to table to improve food safety and meet the growing demand from consumers to know more about the sources of their food.

As one of the reviewers noted: 

The commercial benefit of the proposed technology is abundantly clear. The current system is antiquated and accompanied by high costs associated with utilizing it. With the growth of the shellfish industry and the increasingly educated consumer base the technology offered by this project should be in high demand.

Over the next 6 months, Shellfish Solutions will work with companies in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia to beta test a new solution that utilizes mobile phones, thermal printers, and cloud computing.  The ultimate goal is to build a system that

  1. Saves farms and distributors money/time
  2. Makes it easier for all market participants to comply with federal and state regulations
  3. Builds a traceability chain from the tideline to the table for all shellfish.  

This work build on the success of Oyster Tracker’s current products: Farm Manager and Tagging Systems.  DSC09956 If you are interested in learning more, please reach out.  

 

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1 min read

Don't Share your Data with a Competitor

By Chip Terry on May 14, 2020 1:05:33 PM

When you work with us, your data is your data and we don't share it with anyone.  You can read our privacy policy and terms of service on the bottom of this website.  

Many farm manager systems run their own farms and invest in other farms in the US, Canada and Australia.  That means if you work with them you are sharing your data with a competitor.  

We do not invest in farms and we do not own a farm.  In other words, we are not in a conflicted situation.  Our goal is to make you successful.  That is why we are growing so fast.

Bottom line:  Make sure you ask if the company or the principals are owners/investors in other farms and have a conflict.  Most do.  

 

 

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1 min read

Zooming and Filtering: The Latest on Oyster Tracker

By Cat Ganim on Apr 9, 2020 1:07:12 PM

Despite all the craziness, our team has been focused on what we can control: improving our Farm Management software. 
 
We released our latest version last week.  This release is all about helping folks navigate more easily through the farm.  For example, we now include a global view of your farm with counts of all animals.  Image from iOS (25)
 
You can also now filter your results to find just the size, year class, equipment, or virtually any other data point that you are looking for. 

 

Finally, during this Covid outbreak we are not charging any of our clients for two months and we are offering 2 month free trials to anyone who wants one. Please tell your friends. :-) 

Thanks for all your support.  

Cat Ganim
Product & Operations
Oyster Tracker

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1 min read

Welcome Kam

By Chip Terry on Apr 7, 2020 1:18:43 PM

After getting inquiries from over 30 people and interviewing 8 amazing folks, we hired our first sales leader--right as Covid shutdown the entire economy. 

Tough time to start, but Kam Kim is already a great addition to the team. He is smart, energetic, and will make sure we are well connected to the shellfish farms in the mid-Atlantic.  When this market rebound (and it will), he will be ready.  

Beyond getting a free trial, here is why you should meet Kam.

1) He managed one of Cherrystone's Farms on the eastern shore of Virginia--one of the largest farms on the east coast. From that experience, he has a deep appreciation of how successful farms run.  IMG_5123

2) He managed the farm at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMs) for the last 3 years. There he was a client of Oyster Tracker for over a year. VIMs taught him how broodstock, nursery, and hatchery programs work and the deep importance of the science behind all we do.  Oyster Tracker - IG.1

3) He was/will be again a bartender who loves to meet people and solve problems.

IMG_5124

4) Most importantly, he is a natural born model and a great fisherman. 

IG.2

You can reach Kam at Kam@oystertracker.com.

Please join us in congratulating him. 

Chip

 

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1 min read

Covid Crisis: Preparing for a better future

By Chip Terry on Mar 24, 2020 1:50:19 PM

Wow it is a crazy time.  I hope you and your families are well.  That is most important.

As I'm sure you know, Covid has been disastrous for shellfish farms. Restaurant sales have gone to zero and therefor almost all farm have no sales. Most farms are cutting expenses.

In response, we have given all our clients the next two months free. We always want to be a good partner with our clients and this is one small way we can do that.

We are also the eternal optimists and know that unlike some other industries/companies we are in a fortunate place.  Here are my data points.

1) You can meet demand when the market rebounds.  Oysters/clams/mussels can stay on the farm pretty much indefinitely. Once restaurants reopen farms will be able to meet demand. The optimistic scenario: 2 months of social distancing followed by a great summer.

2) We are building great solutions to real challenges:  We are well funded with a great team and clients in 10 states and 4 countries. Clients have been giving us strong directions. We are continually updating our farm management solution and our new tagging solution is coming soon. 

3) You can now try Oyster Tracker for free:  As you move into the busy season of planting new seed, splitting bags and generally getting the farm in shape we can help.  All farms will now automatically get a free two month trial. If it works for you and business bounces back great. If not, you can always export all your data to a spreadsheet. 

Bottom line:  Together we will come out of this stronger.  Please let us know what we can do to help you.  

The Oyster Tracker Team (Chip, Andy, Cat, Kam, Drew, and Rob)

 

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2 min read

Shellfish Regulations

By Chip Terry on Feb 10, 2020 11:00:20 AM

An estimated 35,000 Americans got sick from Vibrio parahaemolyticus transmitted by shellfish--an increase 54% from 2006 to 2017.

At first glance really bad news, but:

1) The CDC estimates the percentage of unreported illnesses and scales up based on the reported cases. Better reporting leads to worse results. If historically consumers reported only 10% of cases, but today they report 30% the estimated number of illnesses would be a 300% increase--without any actual increase in disease.

2) Even ignoring the reporting issue, the industry grew way more than 54% over the last 10 years. On a percentage basis, the incidence of disease must be lower.

In other words, the percentage of shellfish consumers getting sick has declined. But even one sickness or death is too many. We should always be looking for improvements. Headlines like the above lead to more stringent regulations and a greater burden on the industry that may only add cost and not improve outcomes.

Having spent some time exploring the 489 page Model Ordinance and seeing what happens on farms, dealers and restaurants, I wanted to share with you our experience. As with many others, I think our current system is fine, but beginning to creak under a growing demand. Most notably the reliance solely on a paper based often handwritten system for tracebacks.

The shellfish traceability system relies a paper trail that let's regulators traceback through the supply chain in the event of an illness. Here is the general overview of how this works (note there are a lot of subtleties that I'm ignoring here).

1) Harvest Your Shellfish

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You made sure the state hasn't closed the water for any sort of harmful algal bloom (which seem to be increasing everywhere). You comply with any Vibrio regulations--which mostly relate to getting the product on ice/refrigerated within a specified time.

 
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2) Fill out your harvest tags

Depending on the state, you have to do one tag for every bag and at least part of the tag is usually done by hand. If your area has a vibrio compliance plan, you must include extra data.

3) Complete your other paperwork

Harvest log, vibrio logs, shipping labels, invoices and the like. Make sure you also file your harvest reports with the state every month (or annually in some state)

4) Dealers take over

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  temperatures, wet storage and and the like. All while trying to read your handwriting.

 

Dealers replace your tags with their own, create a receiving log, keep track of

Depending on the supply chain route, this can happen numerous times between the farm and the plate.

5) Eventually the Restaurant

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They are required to store tags for 90 days in chronological order. This is a typical storage system. When someone gets sick, regulators start here.

The result:

The average traceback takes over 4 weeks and over 50% of tracebacks fail because at some point in the chain the records are incomplete or unreadable.

In other words, despite spending thousand of hours and millions of dollars on compliance, the system seldom has the intended result of preventing others from getting sick.

We are in the midst of developing a solution to help farmers. What would you like to see?

 

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1 min read

USDA Aquaculture Data: Tread Carefully

By Chip Terry on Jan 8, 2020 12:48:58 PM

The USDA just released a census of Aquaculture in the US.  As far as I can see, the data has some serious limitations--and it is not the fault of the USDA.  It was a voluntary survey and the results show that the majority of farms didn't return the surveys.  Here are a couple of highlights:

1) Alabama: USDA says there are 3 mollusk farms in Alabama.  Bill Walton of Auburn University count 22 farms.  I can list off 19 farms.  In other words, ~15% of the active farms Alabama are included.  

2) Maryland: USDA has 30 mollusk farms.  Matt Parker of Maryland Sea Grant counts over 100 leaseholders in Maryland. Roughly 30% of farms included.  In addition, there is one mystery farm in Maryland that sold over 23 million shellfish--more than the entire state reported in the previous year. 

3) Maine:   USDA has 42 mollusk farms. Maine Aquaculture Association counts over 190 farms. 22% of farms included.  

This by no means scientific, but my sample of three shows huge variations from reality (insert joke about Washington reality here).  

Although funny, it does matter.  Government support on issues like better crop insurance and disaster relief, support for research programs on better seed, policies on fair use of public waterways, and Jones Act exemptions all often hinge on the value of the industry.  If the government is significantly under counting the shellfish industry it really matter.  

Next time you get that survey?  Probably worth filling out. 

 

  

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2 min read

Oysters: Headed to Tulip Territory?

By Chip Terry on Dec 13, 2019 3:10:59 PM

In 17th century Holland Tulips were the first modern market panic.  Overnight tulip values dropped to almost nothing and scores of people went bankrupt.  The question I get regularly is: Are we in a oyster bubble?  Tulips and Oysters together

I have no way of predicting the future, but here are some of the relevant data points.  

1) Production is way up:  This is the most obvious sign that we are in a bubble.

  1. Production in Massachusetts is up 48% in the last 4 years.  
  2. Maine has 74 full shellfish leases and over 540 Limited Purpose or Experimental leases--and all these leases can sell product commercially
  3. Maryland went from 3,304 bushels in 2012 to 74,066 bushels of oysters in 2017
  4. Virginia has seen a 300% increase in production in 10 years
  5. North Carolina has 48 water column leases--up from 2 leases on 2011
  6. Florida has 200+ leases and just permitted 90 more
  7. Texas just started their aquaculture program
  8. Washington State: Always strong continues to add new farms and grow existing
  9. The Canadian government is really supporting the growth of the industry in the Maritime providence and British Columbia.
  10. Mexico has increasing production on the Baja peninsula. 

2) Wild harvests continue to decline.  Especially most recently in the Gulf of Mexico.

3) Prices vary by region and over time.  Reports by farmers seem to point to the Fall being the worst for the Northeast as many smaller farmers sell off crop they don't want to hold over the winter. Others in Louisiana and elsewhere are reporting that they can't keep up with demand. I regularly hear that prices for high-quality half-shell oyster range from a low of $.30 to a high of $70/pc on the wholesale market.  For folks selling directly to restaurants, the price is often between $.60 and $1/oyster.   

4) Wholesalers/Distributors are doing great:  A major distributor in the Northeast reported that their business has been up 20% y/y for the last 10 years and more than 40% this year.  Real Oyster Cult--a direct to consumer business--has seem their business rise by over 100% in the last year.

5) Restaurants continue to push oysters.  They are a profitable item and tend to be paired with drinks--the most profitable items for a restaurant.

6) Global restaurant trends still support oysters: 

Hyper-local food is a hot trend according to 60% of chefs.  

Sustainable Seafood is a top trend for proteins

7) Folks are not getting sick:  Despite the occasional click-bait article, the number of reported illnesses is down on a per-capita basis.  

8) We are nowhere near our historic consumption:  In the 1890s, ~30% of the protein for the working class came from shellfish--today it is probably well less than 1%

So what should the oyster farmer do?  

1) Be an efficient producer:  If we do hit a drop, being able to produce oyster cost effectively will make all the difference.

2) Build strong relationships with your buyers:  Be the folks that are easy to work with.  Deliver a high-quality product on time as promised.

3) Save for a rainy day: Whether it is a hurricane, ice storm, or dropping demand, something will happen make sure you have savings to tide your over.  

Topics: #OysterLife
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4 min read

Environmental Services: A New Revenue Opportunity for Oyster Farms

By Chip Terry on Oct 29, 2019 3:00:23 PM

 

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Our waterways are stressed by excess nutrients--especially nitrogen and phosphate. Nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer fueled the "green revolution" that saw grain harvest double within 20 years.  This amazing revolution has fed millions and delivered beautiful green lawns to many.

However, roughly 50% of these nutrients run off into waterways. Numerous other nutrient sources like sewage, urban runoff and industrial sources add to the nutrient load.  Excess nutrients fuels algae blooms.  As the algae decays it sucks oxygen out of the water and we end up with dead waterways.  From Cape Cod  and the Chesapeake Bay, to Florida, and Puget Sound the results are not pretty. The EPA estimates 15,000 water bodies in the US are impacted.

What causes harmful algal blooms - Clean Water Action

Most waterways in the US now have EPA approved Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that define how much pollution can safely be added to waterways. States and local communities then have Best Management Practices (BMPs) that allow them to figure out how to meet the TMDL goal. The solution could be building a new sewage treatment plant, putting limits on waterfront development, paying farmers to let fields lie fallow....and now paying oyster farmers to farm more oysters!

A BMP panel in the Chesapeake reviewed all the literature and concluded that oysters sequester nitrogen and phosphate and when harvested remove those nutrients from the water.  And in case you are wondering, most of that is in the shell or turned into a harmless gas--it is not like oysters are hoarding something that is bad for people. The team even came up with a formula for how much each oyster sequesters.  Every 500,000 3" oysters removes ~100lbs of nitrogen and 11lbs of phosphate from the water.

Now MD and VA have passed laws that will eventually pay oyster farms to grow more oysters. The mechanism is a "nutrient credit trading program."  For example if a new development is putting in lawns that will require lots of fertilizer, the developer can buy offsetting credits. For every pound of nutrient they will put in, they must buy 2 pounds of offsetting credits.

Regulators are working through the details of how to implement these laws.  For example: Do we pay for just increase or the entire harvest?  Diploid and Triploids sequester different amounts how do we account for that? How close to the development does the oyster farm need to be? Is this an annual cost or one-time? And most importantly how do we track this so it is easy to participate and not open to fraud?

Since the programs are not up yet, the actual value of a farmed oyster is unknown.  But there are some hints. Nitrogen value seems to be between $12/lb and $37/lb and Phosphate at $15,000/lb to $54,000/lb (turns out it is much harder to sequester phosphate).  Taking conservative values and halving them, we get to ~$.17/oyster.  If that holds up, farmers in VA and MD would be seeing an over 30% increase in revenue. 

The caveat:  The programs are not started yet.  There are a lot of unknowns.  Although the math works, $.17/oyster seems really optimistic. Don't start spending yet.  

For those who want more reading:

1) The Stockholm Resilience Center, an organization that examines the largest threats to natural life-support systems, considers our overuse of nitrogen a more extreme risk to life on Earth than climate change. 

2) Wikipedia has a good overview of the TMDL system

3) Here is the final report from the Oyster BMP program in the Chesepeake

4) Here is Maryland program.  As of this writing it is not ready for oyster farmers.

 

And here are some examples of why this is a problem. 

Florida puts 47.5 million gallons of partially treated human waste in the water daily.

Everyone knows Great Bay (NH) is in trouble. Polluted clam flats, a 90 percent loss of oyster beds, eelgrass gone or substantially gone in many areas, siltation, stormwater runoff and excessive nitrogen. 

The EPA reports that over 15,000 waterways in the US suffer from excess nutrients.

Puget Sound has had a number of harmful algae blooms. 

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1 min read

PCSGA: Understanding the West Coast Industry

By Chip Terry on Sep 30, 2019 9:57:00 AM

Just spent a week out in Portland OR at the 73rd! Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.  Really interesting.  Here are some of my takeaways.

1) The industry on the West Coast is different.  The farms are larger.  They have been in business for much longer (often generations).  They farm mostly Pacific (Gigas) Oysters, Clams and Goeducks. 

2) Like on the East Coast, there are a lot of really smart people working on specific problems.  Ocean Acidification, Green Crab Invasions....

3) Like on the east coast, most farms are moving towards container culture.  In most cases, they are using Flip Bags. There is a lot less floating gear except up in British Columbia.

4) There have been some significant die offs and there isn't always an obvious cause. But there are a lot of smart people working on it.

5) The export market is a lot more important. A significant amount of product leaves for Asia every day.  Tariffs have not helped.  

6)You learn a lot more at the bar than in the sessions!

 

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Topics: #PCSGA73
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2 min read

Long Island: Amazing

By Chip Terry on Sep 27, 2019 9:00:30 AM

Spent 4 days earlier this month visiting clients and prospects on Long Island.  Clearly this is a region on the rise.  The fresh water of the Atlantic flushes the Little and Great Peconic IMG_2972 (1)Bays creating ideal growing conditions. The communities are largely supportive. The farms can sell to great restaurants on Long Island or within a few hours they can have their product in NYC. No wonder the number of farmers and the size of the farms is growing.IMG_3017

The folks couldn't be nicer--The Burkes from Happy Oyster even put me up at their house for the night. Check out their hilarious YouTube channel.  

The farmers I met were often folks who had decided to move from desk jobs in NYC to become farmers. One had worked for tech startups. Another was an ex-art restorer. The Burke's had owned a bicycle shop. Others had left Wall Street. Some were multi-generation and still going strong.

The Long Island oyster thrived from before Europeans arrived until the early 20th century. But like many places, pollution and over-harvesting devastated the wild populations and much of the industry shut down. Today, new techniques, cleaner water, and new energy is bringing back this historic fishery. It is a good news story in a time when we need more uplifting media.  Thanks for all you do.

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1 min read

Oyster Tracker Grows Up

By Chip Terry on Sep 20, 2019 1:03:27 PM

Oyster Tracker recently hit two big milestones--we raised money and hired our first Chief Technical Officer full time.  Having clients in 10 different states and 3 countries has taught us a lot. We now know a lot more about what the industry needs, what we should build and how we should support you.  With talent and money, we can bring our solution to the next level.

Our CTO is Andy Kearney.  Andy has been working nights and weekends to build our current product.  He is a talented engineer who most recently led a large engineering team at VRBO (a division on Expedia).  We have worked together in the past and I know we are incredibly lucky to have such a talented leader.  Andy works closely with Cat Ganim and Drew Condon our leaders of user experience and product.  Together they make a really capable team that will continue to make our product easier to use and more valuable. 

The investors in our company are what is known in this world as "smart" money. They see a big opportunity to help you all be more successful, but they know we need more than just money. We need support. Our investors range from institutions like Maine Venture Fund and Branch Ventures, to individuals who have a passion for aquaculture.  Two of the investors are active oyster farmers. One is a former marine biologist another runs the largest organic food distributor in the Northeast. Two are active CEOs of mid-size companies. Many have deep experience globally and in other aquaculture ventures. In other words, it is a great range of folks who will give us superb support. 

Bottom line:  This will be great for our clients.  We will continue to improve the product, add new solutions and provide the support they deserve.  

Thank you for all you have done so far.  We are eager to continue working with you.

Chip, Andy, Cat, and Drew

Topics: #CTO
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2 min read

Oyster Tracker releases new version and grows customer base

By Chip Terry on Aug 27, 2019 6:06:00 PM

Excuse the brag, but every once is a while we like to take note of what we have accomplished. Here is our latest press release.

The only custom built platform for Shellfish Farmers, Oyster Tracker, has released a series of upgrades to make managing an oyster, mussel, clam, scallop or sea vegetable farm easier. The major upgrades include

  • Self-Service: Farms can now be configured and changed by the farmers.
  • Improved Data Entry: Different types of farming and husbandry techniques are tracked quickly and easily--generally in less than 10 minutes per day.
  • New Data Structure: To both improve performance and the insights from data.
  • Better Reporting: On everything from current inventory and last week’s activities, to the growth rates of different seed classes.

Farmers have been embracing this improved platform in increasing numbers. From farmers like  Peeko in New York and Saltwater Farms in Rhode Island to Nonesuch in Maine. Here is what they have to say about the new Oyster Tracker.

“We were looking for a system that could help keep the chaos under control. So far Oyster Tracker has been great for our business” Toni-Jo Birk, The Happy Oyster Company

“Having worked with Oyster Tracker for over a year, it is great to see them continually improving the solution. They have made a number of updates we asked for. Our time spent generating reports for our insurance company have been dramatically reduced.” Adam Silkes, American Mussel Harvesters

According to Cat Ganim, product lead for Oyster Tracker: “The key to any successful business is listening to your clients and understanding how to make their lives easier and more successful. We have visited over 60 farms in the last year and really understand the challenges that this industry faces as it scales. We have a long list of plans to help the farmers be more successful. These latest releases are just the start.“

 
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Real time inventory--that is easily exportable

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Easy to use log book--with pictures!

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Setting up a farm has never been easier.

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3 min read

Insurance, Really?

By Chip Terry on Jul 27, 2019 6:07:00 PM

This is the most boring post ever, but potentially the most important.  Imagine this scenario: 

You’ve invested years of your life and your entire life savings starting the best farm ever.  You bought a million seed and you are a week away from harvest. Boom! A tornado/hurricane/nor-easter/ice-storm takes out your farm. 

What happens? You have no insurance:  Call your mom and see if she has an extra bedroom.  It is going to be a long road.

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Ice destroying a farm in the Northeast.

You have catastrophic coverage for weather-related losses from the Farm Service Agency (known as "NAP" or Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program) and your original seed receipts. Better. You would likely get $16,380.  If you are in Massachusetts here is the calculation the adjuster will make (each state is different).

  1. By the end of year one you would have lost 70%.
  2. In year two you would lose another 60%
  3. Hence at the end of year 2, they assume you have 120,000 oysters ready for sale.
  4. At $.51/oyster (the established market rate for Mass) that is worth $61,200--but unless you have paid for an upgraded plan, they only pay 55% of the market price $33,660
  5. They would then pay 50% of the value: $16,380

You have Catastrophic insurance from NAP and a verifiable inventory from the day before the catastrophic event that shows you have 600,000 market size oysters. Now you are in better shape. Instead of taking conservative averages, the adjuster can take your inventory and use it as the baseline.  You have $306,000 of crop value. Using the same calculations above, they pay out 50% of the value at 55% of the established market price: $84,120.

Bottom line: 

Basic coverage is cheap: Basic NAP coverage costs $325/year--and it is free if you have been farming for less than 10 years. And they do have better coverage--like paying out at market price instead of 55% of market price. Ask your county FSA office for details.

Inventory Records are critical: You need a reliable, verifiable, and contemporaneous account of your inventory.  What each adjuster will accept is a bit different, but a key is to have no large gaps in the records.  If you show up and say “I counted all my bags yesterday and here is what I have” and you don’t have records of doing that each month for the last 12 months you are probably going to be out of luck.  

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Hurricane Michael taking out farms on the Gulf Coast

If you have a record in  your notebook of all your activities for the last year with quantities of equipment and stocking density you are going to be in much better shape.  If you dropped that book overboard and it got wiped out? Good luck. Of course, this is self-serving, but if you have a cloud based record of all your inventory and activities for the last 2 years, push a button and send it off.  You will be back in business in no time.

Here is the recommendation from the ECSGA newsletter:

If you are not keeping meticulous records now you should start. ....This is probably a good time to invest in one of those nifty new inventory management software programs.

You are still better off with no disaster, but these insurance programs will help you get back on your feet.  As you get bigger and more sophisticated you can and should look at other options. NAP and good inventory records are a great place to start.  Hopefully you will never have to use it.  

Your to-do's  

  1. Call your local FSA office and sign up for NAP by Sept 1st
  2. Keep inventory records (Call us if you want help).
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Scallops Do Have Eyes

By Chip Terry on May 14, 2019 6:07:00 PM

OK. So I published fake news. In our last newsletter, I used a reddit post:

It’s super weird that clams, oysters, mussels and scallops don’t have eyes, but not as weird as it would be if they did have eyes.

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Turns out scallops are super weird. They have up to 200 eyes. Here are the details.

And in case you are wondering, clams and oysters have light sensing organs.

I stand corrected. It is also amazing that I got that feedback from 4 people within 30 minutes of sending the newsletter. Thanks for reading.

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1 min read

Oysters can save $9 billion on Healthcare

By Chip Terry on May 13, 2019 6:08:00 PM

Roughly 41 million Americans took an antidepressant last month. What if eating oysters could reduce that number?

Studies have shown that the vitamin B12 in oysters can reduce brain shrinkage!! And the omega-3 fatty acids that oysters have in abundance can reduce suicide and depression. At least one psychiatrist is "prescribing oysters to his patients....He says the results prove what we eat could be another tool in improving mental health."

If each American who had depression was prescribed a dozen oysters per week. That would be 24.6 billion oysters! Or a wholesale value of over $12 billion. And even if it only worked 10% of the time, that would be a savings of over $9 billion annually.

And for our farmers to meet that 24.6 billion oysters? They would have to increase production 24 fold.

Bottom line: Eat oysters. Live happy. Save money. Grow a lot more oysters.

Details:

Instead of medication, this psychiatrist is prescribing oysters to his patients (April, 2019)

13% of Americans Take Antidepressants (CDC/Time Magazine)

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