Aquaculture: Catfish sales by growers to processors are expected to decline again in 2008, marking the fourth consecutive year of declining sales. Grower estimates of catfish in inventory at the beginning of 2008 showed declines in almost all categories, despite relatively strong prices through much of 2007. The lower inventories point strongly toward lower sales of food size fish to processors in 2008. The quantity of processed catfish sales fell by 11.1 percent in 2007, and while prices were relatively strong through the first half of 2007, they fell during the second half of the year.
Catfish Sales Expected To Decline in 2008
Catfish sales by farmers to processors are expected to decrease again in 2008 to between 470 and 480 million pounds. Based on grower estimates of catfish in their ponds at the start of 2008, growers’ sales are expected to be lower throughout most of the year. However, in the second half of the year, with falling production, grower prices are expected to gain some strength and be higher than a year earlier.
Sales by catfish growers in 2007 of all products totaled $445 million, down 8 percent from the previous year. Sales were lower for almost all categories. Sales of food size fish totaled $408 million, down over 10 percent from the previous year. Sales were lower in most States, with the decline in Mississippi accounting for most of the drop. There were some exceptions, as sales of food size fish had double digit increases in both California and Texas, but both these States are relatively minor producers. Sales of fingerlings and fry (small fish weighing less than 60 pounds per thousand or measuring less than 6 inches in length) fell to $20 million, down 6 percent from 2006. However, the number of fingerlings and fry that were sold was down 15 percent, and as a result the average price for these fish was higher.
While sales of food size fish were lower, sales of broodfish and stockers both increased. Broodfish sales, while relatively minor at only $770,000, were 14 percent higher than in 2006. The increase in stocker sales was even stronger, with total stocker sales reaching $15.1 million in 2007, an increase of 119 percent from the previous year. While sales of stockers by most individual States was not reported due to disclosure rules, sales in Mississippi rose by over 195 percent to $13.3 million.
Sales of food size fish by farmers directly to processors are reported in the monthly Catfish Processing report. These sales in 2007 totaled 496 million pounds, down 12.3 percent from 2006 and the fourth consecutive yearly decline in sales. The peak in sales was in 2003 at 661 million pounds. Monthly sales volumes from catfish growers to processors were below those of 2006 throughout the year.
Over the last couple of years, the declines in the volume of farmers’ sales have been partially offset by rising farm-level prices. However in 2007, farm prices averaged 76.7 cents per pound, down about 3 cents per pound from 2006. Farm prices during the first half of 2007 were higher than a year earlier on a year-over-year basis, but declined strongly in the second half of 2007. With lower farm prices and lower sales on a poundage basis, the total gross returns to farmers for sales to processors were $380 million in 2007, a decrease of 15.5 percent from the previous year.
Processor sales of catfish products have followed basically the same pattern as those for grower sales of catfish to processors. Sales of catfish products reached a peak in 2003 at 319 million pounds and have fallen in the last 4 consecutive years. Again like farm sales, in past years, while the volume of sales has declined, the weighted average price for catfish products has risen. However, in 2007 the average price for catfish products was $2.44 per pound, 1.5 percent lower than in 2006. With a decline in volume and the decrease in price, the gross sales return to catfish processors was $616 million in 2007, down 12.5 percent from $704 million in 2006.
In 2008, sales volume is expected to again decline, but prices are expected to strengthen in the second half of the year as a smaller amount of fish is expected to be available for processing.
Grower sales of catfish over the first half of 2008 are expected to be influenced by a number of factors. First, the water acreage available for growing catfish is expected to be lower. Second, grower estimates of inventory levels of food size fish, stockers, and fingerlings were all down. Third, catfish growers, like other animal producers, are faced with large increases in both corn and soybean meal prices. Fourth, imports of frozen catfish fillets and products from fish that can be substituted for catfish are likely to continue to increase. There is a wide range of products, and catfish sales are likely being impacted by the large increases in imports of products like tilapia fillets.
Catfish Feed Deliveries Increase in 2007
In 2007, feed deliveries for food size fish totaled 818,000 tons, up over 12 percent from a year earlier. This is puzzling, considering that growers sales of food size fish declined by almost 40 million pounds in 2007. It would be expected that feed deliveries would be closely tied to the total weight of fish produced, so a strong increase in feed deliveries would be paired with an increase in the poundage of food size fish sold. All of the major catfish producing states (Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana) reported gains in feed deliveries for food size fish in 2007. However, deliveries of feed for fingerlings and broodfish were consistently lower throughout 2007 and totaled only 40,450 tons, down 16 percent from 2006. This seems more in line with the lower sales of fingerlings in 2008.
Catfish Inventories Down
Grower estimates of catfish inventories held in ponds at the beginning of 2008 showed declines in most categories. The lower inventories point toward lower sales of food size fish to processors in 2008. With a weaker domestic economy and higher grain prices, catfish producers are expected to be pressured on both the price and production cost sides.
Growers estimated they had around 294 million food size fish in their ponds at the beginning of 2008, which was down 6.1 percent from the previous year. Due to their dominant position in the industry, the 5.5-percent decline in food size fish held by growers in Mississippi made up the bulk of the national decline. However, there were some increases, with inventories of food size fish held by growers in Texas rising by 89 percent from a year earlier. With the smaller inventory of food size fish, growers will have less fish available during the first 3-4 months of 2008. This may help to lower inventories of processed catfish held in cold storage and provide some price strength after the end of Lent, which is traditionally the strongest sales period for processors.
The January 1, 2008, inventory estimate for stockers showed only a small decrease (0.9 percent) from a year earlier. The total for all stockers was approximately 570 million fish, down just over 5 million from the previous year.
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