July 13, 2013
Townsend Kyser looks over the 750 acres of catfish ponds scattered over his Hale County farm and wonders about the future.
The 33-year-old is a third-generation catfish farmer. The family business started in 1969 when his grandfather, Joe Kyser, built some of the first ponds designed to raise catfish in the state. Now it’s up to him, his father, Bill, and his brother, Ashley, to keep things going.
It isn’t easy, he says.
The American catfish industry has hit hard times of late, largely because of two factors: the tremendous increase in feed costs and of cheaper Asian fish flooding the market, Townsend Kyser says.
“We want to compete on a level playing field; we feel like we can win on a level playing field,” he says. “But the foreign fish is so much cheaper than what we can produce. … But the market is the market. The cheap imports are competition, but they also deflate prices that the market can stand.”
The biggest reason foreign fish is cheaper is labor costs, says Mitt Walker of the Alabama Farmer’s Federation.
“In America, we have to pay farm help, and people that work in the processing plants at least minimum wage,” he says. “That’s much more of a labor cost that the subsistence wages in Asia. Also American farmers have to live up to government standards for feed, water quality and other factors that drive up production costs.”