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Catfish Are Only Bright Spot In State's Agriculture
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Catfish producers are among the few Mississippi farmers happy with the current market situation.
Jim Steeby, district aquaculture agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Stoneville, said temperatures and markets have favored catfish farmers this year.
"This is shaping up to be one of our best years for catfish with the price of feed and the price of fish," Steeby said. "Catfish is definitely the only bright spot on the agriculture scene so far this year."
Catfish acreage also increased, with Mississippi now home to 105,000 pond acres. Mississippi leads the country in this industry, followed in distant second by Arkansas with 25,500 acres, Steeby said.
Most processing plans around the state have been paying 80 cents a pound for catfish since late April. This is up from 78 cents in 1998, and 73 cents in 1997. Feed prices are $200 a ton or less, compared to $260 a ton in 1997.
"Soybeans are the major ingredient in our feed, and with grain prices as low as they are, feed prices are some of the best I've ever seen," Steeby said.
Moderate spring temperatures served one segment of the catfish industry well, providing the climate for the best spawning season in recent years. This means producers should have more than adequate supplies of fingerlings going into next year, Steeby said.
"Last year was a particularly poor year for catfish spawning and our fingerling supplies were rather tight," Steeby said. "This year was excellent for spawning, and although the spawning cutoff date normally is July 4, many producers had stopped by mid-June."
While cool temperatures make ideal spawning conditions, they also create the environment for disease problems.
Billy George Janous, owner of Janous Fish Farm in Belzoni, said winter and spring were hard on his fish as he fought disease and poor appetites, but the situation is improving.
"In May and most of June, our fish were off their feed, but they started eating better the last few weeks of June," Janous said.
He said he anticipates summer production to be a little lower than processors need.
"I don't think we're going to grow out the fish that they need in July, and I think it will take until August to catch up," Janous said.
Despite a slow start, he said he expects the year to be good for the industry.
"I don't look for price to drop until about October," Janous said. "Our production should be about the same as last year, we just won't have the summer crop we usually have."