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Catfish Production Still Makes Waves
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's catfish industry already leads the world in production, and in 1997 increased 22 percent to record a $380 million farm gate value in the state.
The latest figures show that Mississippi had 102,000 acres of catfish ponds as of Jan. 1, 1997. The United States had a total of 177,300. Twenty years ago, Mississippi had just 17,000 acres of catfish ponds.
Jim Steeby, area extension aquaculture agent in the Delta, said no other place in the nation is so uniquely equipped for catfish production.
"The Delta has the right climate, proper soils and a plentiful water table for catfish production," Steeby said. "Eighty percent of the state's catfish pond acreage is located in the Delta."
In the past few years, Mississippi growers have become extremely involved in every aspect of the catfish industry. Twenty years ago, catfish producers did not own the feed mills and processing plants and profits were spread to outside interests.
"In the last five to 10 years, all the processing has been taken over and owned by producer cooperatives," Steeby said. "Today, farmers own the entire production from the creation of feed, the processing and wholesaling up to the restaurant level."
With this local grower involvement in the catfish industry, income stays in the state. In 1997, about 7,300 jobs in Mississippi were tied to this industry, including those at farms, feed mills and processing plants.
Catfish production in Mississippi is centered in the Delta in Humphreys and Sunflower counties, but East Mississippi has made inroads into catfish production.
Jeff Terhune, area extension aquaculture agent, works in Noxubee County where last year catfish made the single largest economic impact on this county. East Mississippi experienced a $25 million economic impact from catfish production, and most of that impact was in this one county.
"Noxubee County has about 75 percent of the total water acres in the six county East Mississippi area and has two catfish processing plants," Terhune said.
The catfish industry in East Mississippi increased 10 percent in 1997, and Terhune predicted another 5 percent increase in 1998.
"The price farmers are netting from the sale of their fish has decreased some and slowed down new pond construction," Terhune said. "But we should still see an increase in the number of new ponds."
East Mississippi is ideal for catfish production because it has flat land with clay soil ideal for ponds. These ponds rely in large part on the plentiful rainfall to fill them, rather than groundwater and wells, as occurs in the Delta.