Something fishy going on in Iowa
In the middle of Iowa, it’s harvest time — but not just in corn and soybean fields.
On one 80-acre family farm nestled in the hills between Cedar Rapids and the Amana Colonies, the harvest is much more colorful … and wet. This place is swimming in Japanese koi.
“The koi spawning is my favorite thing to do … as we start to harvest the little fish, what we’ve made, what we’ve developed,” said Ellen Kloubeck as dozens of brilliantly colored koi — each more than a foot long — swirled beneath her hands while she scattered food pellets into one of the farm’s 75 small ponds.
Kloubec operates the farm with her husband Myron and son Nicholas. It was Nicholas Kloubec's idea seven years ago to move from selling just game fish to selling Japanese Koi year-round. The koi now make up 90 percent of the business, making Kloubec Koi Farm one of the largest in the country.
Holly Hand, marketing manager for the farm, said over the last couple decades the koi market has growing significantly. But these fish are not for the frying pan; they’re mostly for show.
“Koi are like pets. The can be trained to hand feed, to greet you. They show personality,” she said. “They also are beautiful. People become collectors.”
But Ellen Kloubec said breeding koi can be tedious and time-consuming.
“They get hormone injections for them to develop their eggs so that they ovulate all at one time. We strip the eggs; we fertilize them ... and then the koi hatch in about three days’ time. The little fry stay in here for just three days and then they are syphoned out of the tanks,” she said.
Those “little fry” are the size of mosquito larva — and there are millions of them that go out to the nursing ponds.
Like any farming operation, risk comes with the weather. Storms can knock out power and the pumps go out – meaning no air flow or air for the fish.
The outdoor ponds are especially vulnerable.
“Sometimes when we have huge torrential rains it can actually fill the ponds too full, too quickly and it can actually wash some of the little fry away,” Kloubec said. “It’s not like cattle or hogs where you corral them back in. When the fish get out, they’re gone.”
Koi that survive can then be sold.
The most colorful, well-marked fish go to a fish show in Westminster, Md. Others are separated for Internet sales, where they range in price from $100 to $800 apiece; one once sold for about $2,500.
“I photograph each of the fish that I list online. When (buyers) go online they are buying that exact fish,” Ellen Kloubec said.
But the fastest-growing part of the business is to wholesale garden centers throughout the United States and Canada.
Indeed, Hand said this has been the farm’s best year ever, with sales up 25 percent from last year.