Large and small commercial operations to farm Chinese softshell turtles Pelodiscus sinensis exist in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Chinese softshell is native to temperate East Asia but grows and breeds rapidly in tropical climates, making it the most productive and economically attractive species to farm there. Softshell farms in Thailand have produced as many as six million hatchlings of P. sinensis in a single year. The species is also extensively farmed in mainland China and Taiwan. At present, farms produce an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 metric tons per year, approximately matching or exceeding the amount of wild-caught softshells in trade. Farmed Chinese softshells are rarely marketed on the domestic markets of Southeast Asia; virtually the entire production is shipped by air to East Asian markets.
Attempts to apply the same farming techniques to other Asian softshells species have not succeeded. It is generally considered that hard shelled turtles and tortoises grow too slowly for them to become economically attractive for farming.
Historically, the market prices for most hard shelled turtles and tortoises had been generally similar regardless of species. An exception to this is Cuora trifasciata which traditional Chinese medicine places a higher value on, consequently driving up demand and price. This has resulted in small scale grass roots type "ranching" of C. trifasciata in China, the scale of which is unknown. The Vietnamese people are fond of keeping Geomyda spengleri as pets and in these instances, breeding is known to occur. In 1997 and 1998 an influx of neonate Cuora flavomarginata, Ocadia sinensis, Mauremys mutica, and to a lesser degree, Cuora galbinifrons and Pyxidea mouhotii have appeared in the Mong Kok pet markets in Hong Kong. Due to the small size of the turtles, they may be well suited to pet market economics and be farm raised. Commercial opportunities from the pet sector could provide the necessary incentive to ranch the hard shell species thus creating a self sustaining supply and becoming a de facto conservation activity, perhaps buying some time for these species.
Turtle farming or ranching as an alternative to further decimation of wild populations does not seem to be an option. It is a case of too little too late.
While softshell turtle farming obviously contributes to meeting demand and thus helps relieve pressure on wild populations, it also has negative effects on wild turtle populations when native populations of Chinese softshells are exploited for additional founder stock. In areas where the species is farmed outside its natural distribution, there is the likelihood that escaped animals will establish populations, with unknown effects on the local ecosystem, while mixing of genetically different stocks (i.e. genetic pollution) is a risk of farming within the range countries. Farmed softshell turtles are raised on a high-protein diet and their production actually represents a net protein reduction to satisfy a luxury demand. Wild-caught animals fetch much higher prices in the food trade and a market for wild-caught turtles will continue to exist alongside a market for farmed turtles.