Iowa Entrepreneurs Building 3.8-Acre Tilapia-Production Facility
Nathan Katzer had a keen interest in fish from a young age, filling his room with as many fish tanks as his mother would allow. Despite this early fascination with aquatic animals and later becoming a certified scuba diver, little in the Iowa native’s career path indicated what he would be today: a fish farmer.
Katzer and his two business partners, Joe Sweeney and Paul Skartvedt, have established Eagle’s Catch, LLLP, and are on track to finish the large-scale tilapia-production facility this year.
Eagle’s Catch is on a 10-acre lot in Ellsworth, Iowa, which will include a 3.8-acre greenhouse for production, a smaller greenhouse where feed and fry (small fish from a hatchery) will come in and full-grown tilapia will go out, and an office building. The goal for the company is to have the first stocking of fish in late summer, and Eagle’s Catch won’t be releasing any production numbers until the facility has been operating for several months.
For some perspective, the largest indoor tilapia-production facility in the world is Blue Ridge Aquaculture in Virginia, according to the company’s website. Each year, the facility raises 4 million pounds of tilapia in a 2.3-acre greenhouse.
“Our aquaculture business is my way of attempting to connect my passions, help usher in a new ag-related industry into Iowa, and try to contribute to the overall community where our business exists,” says Katzer.
Building a Business
Eagle’s Catch has assembled a team with many years of experience raising and selling farmed fish. Although 32-year old Katzer has no experience in fish farming, he brings a diverse skillset to the operation as CFO.
Following graduation from Iowa State University, Katzer worked as a commodity trader for Bartlett Grain at the Kansas City Board of Trade, as a financial risk manager for an ethanol company, started his own ag consulting business, and then was hired by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to develop a program helping multigeneration farm families with business and succession planning before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey offered him an advisory role as the special assistant to the secretary.
“Each opportunity has been in the areas of trade, finance, community-building, and ag business,” says Katzer, which has prepared him well for his new position as CFO of Eagle’s Catch. His extensive network of contacts built during this career also helped as Eagle’s Catch opened its first equity round, focusing on Iowa investors who understand and are involved in livestock agriculture.
During the two years he spent with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Katzer helped respond to Iowa’s worst avian influenza outbreak (in 2015) and worked on water-quality initiatives in the state.
Using his background in these areas, Katzer has helped design a production facility that will minimize biosecurity risks and will be as water neutral as possible; losing less than 1% of the facility’s water capacity a day is the goal. “Water quality is an enormous priority of ours, and we’ve focused on the right preparation and state-of-the-art engineering from day one,” he says, adding that the team has worked with the community and state to ensure Eagle’s Catch is following every requirement for water quality.
What really excites Katzer about being part of this team is the opportunity to be on the ground floor of a new business. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of one of those industry trailblazers and take the entrepreneurial spirit in something you see and build it with your vision.”
Katzer takes that same energy and drive into his work in industry organizations. He’s the president of the Young Professionals in Agriculture (YPiA) organization and is a board member of Grow Iowa Ag and Iowa State University’s Curtiss League of Awesomeness.
Nathan Katzer is featured in Successful Farming magazine’s “10 Up & Comers” article on page 42 in the June/July issue.
Editor’s Note: Jessie Scott (writer of this story) and Nathan Katzer serve on the YPiA board together.