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Friday, May 20, 2011

Hacienda la Estrella

McDonald’s? It is a common breakfast in the United States, but upon arrival in Panama, fast food was not expected. Nonetheless, we got to enjoy it this morning! McMuffins, McCafes, and pancakes filled our trays.

Our second stop took us to Hacienda la Estrella in Coclé. Marquette University educated Hans Hammerschlag, executive vice president, greeted us and gave a presentation throughout the morning about the company model. The enterprise produces shrimp, sugar cane, rice, various fruits, sheep, animal feed, and seed and does seafood processing, all on 60,000 acres of land.

The business brings in $92 million each year through the efforts of 3,000 permanent employees.

Next, we jumped on the bus and rode to the shrimp pond location. The roads were reminiscent of American red dirt with lots of sugar cane fields and a few rice paddies along the way. Before entering the shrimp area, our bus was required pass through a checkpoint with a disinfectant dip for the bus tires to prevent contaminants that might harm the shrimp.

When we arrived, we met in the conference room to talk about their shrimp production which extends to 265 - 1 hectare ponds just over 4 feet deep pumped full by two pump stations including 13 pumps each moving 3,000 gallons per minute.

The ponds are stocked to approximately 10 shrimp per square meter. Their breed of shrimp matures from 150-220 days, reaching almost 1 ounce. The shrimp produced at the farm obtain a 65 percent survival rate and are marketed to the European Union, Taiwan, and the U.S.

A problem for shrimp production in general has been White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) which can wipe out large populations of shrimp. Camaco, the shrimp division of Hacienda la Estrella has invested large sums into developing shrimp that are resistant to WSSV and other common diseases. This flourishing endeavor has been successful in being able to find profitable new marketing strategies.

As we left the shrimp farm, we headed to the rice milling facility where they dehull rice seed, leaving brown rice. Like Americans in the U.S., Panamanians prefer a white (polished) rice. White rice is simply the brown rice that has had the bran and germ removed which is, coincidentally, is the most nutrient dense portion of the rice grain. This bran is then used as a feed additive for their livestock operations, including beef and sheep operations.

Our final destination was their livestock facilities which had a sight familiar to those in the U.S.--biosecurity procedures! At multiple stops throughout the tour, we dipped our shoes into a decontaminating solution to reduce risk of introducing diseases to their farm. They focused their operation on genetics and meat production for marketing locally. To reduce the incidence of recurring diseases, they utilize rotational grazing on a 21 day rotation.

The day ended with a pleasant visit to El Galeόn for dinner and a celebration for Marty’s birthday. A debriefing with the sound of waves crashing on the shore was the perfect end to our time on the beach in Las Sirenas.

Lauren Geiger – Kansas State University
Thomas Marten – Southern Illinois University

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