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Feed Costs Catch Up With Catfish

by Ellen Hardy
28 April 2008, at 1:00am

ALABAMA- When the price for catfish feed climbed 60 percent during last year, Ken Owens of Aliceville decided to sell the fish he would have raised this year and empty his 75 acres of ponds.

After 13 years in the up-and-down business of catfish production, he's decided to get out, at least for a year, says an article for The Birmingham News.

"I couldn't figure out a way to make any money," Owens said.

Soaring prices for soybeans and corn, the principal ingredients in catfish feed, have many catfish farmers wondering how they'll make ends meet. While several factors may be at work, the farmers believe the diversion of grain crops into biofuel production is the principal driver for the high cost of feed.

Feed that was selling for $250 a ton is now in the range of $380 to $410 a ton. Farmers who were getting 57 cents a pound for live fish are estimating it will cost them 72 to 74 cents a pound to raise their fish. After negotiations, catfish processors have agreed to pay the farmers 70 cents a pound.

Butch Wilson, a catfish grower with operations south of Greensboro, said he has heard of some producers, particularly in Mississippi, getting out of the business. Growers who are staying in hope that by next year a tighter supply will drive prices to the point they can operate profitably.

"Most of the producers I've talked with are just looking to hold on this year," Wilson said. "It is going to be extremely difficult to be profitable this year. With the shrinkage going on, we think we will be all right next year."

All farm-raised meats, from cattle to chickens, are facing the same price pressures because of the high price of feed. But catfish farmers are particularly vulnerable because the feed makes up a greater percentage of their operational cost.

View the Birmingham News story by clicking here.

Ellen Hardy