First Home Grown English Bacon, Now Delta Catfish

Both are victims of the high cost of grains, wheat in the pigs’ case, corn for the catfish. as the New York Times explains. And US hog farmers aren’t faring too well either:

Catfish farmers across the South, unable to cope with the soaring cost of corn and soybean feed, are draining their ponds…

Corn and soybeans have nearly tripled in price in the last two years,…wreaking havoc on consumers, who are seeing price spikes in the grocery store and in restaurants. Hog and chicken producers as well as cattle ranchers, all of whom depend on grain for feed, are being severely squeezed.

Perhaps nowhere has the rise in crop prices caused more convulsions than in the Mississippi Delta, the hub of the nation’s catfish industry. This is a hard-luck, poverty-plagued region, and raising catfish in artificial ponds was one of the few mainstays.

Then the economics went awry. Feed is now more than half the total cost of raising catfish, compared with a third of the cost of beef and pork production, according to a Mississippi State analysis. That makes catfish more vulnerable. But if the commodities continue to rocket up — and some analysts believe they will — other industries will fall victim as well….

Some catfish producers recently switched to a feed based on gluten, a cheaper derivative of corn, to reduce their costs. But corn gluten transportation and prices were particularly hard hit by the Midwest floods….

In the spring, hog farmers thought they were past the worst. Export sales to China were strong. Corn appeared to level off. Some farmers sought an edge by reformulating pigs’ diets and reducing the weight at which they sent the animals to the packer.

“And then corn goes up another buck, and you’re back where you were,” said Dave Uttecht, a producer in Alpena, S.D., who raises 70,000 pigs a year.

“I’m a farmer. I’m used to peaks and valleys.” Mr. Uttecht said. “But this is like falling into the Grand Canyon.”….

Hog farmers at least have the advantage that bacon and pork chops are solidly rooted in American cuisine, and if you want either there is no replacement.

In this and many other ways, catfish farmers are not so lucky…..

The industry’s decline accelerated when producers from Vietnam and China flooded the domestic market, putting a ceiling on prices…..

It is unclear what can replace catfish as easily as catfish replaced cotton. Attempts to make a tourist industry out of the fact that the delta was the birthplace of the blues are still embryonic.

“If we don’t do something, there will be nothing but tumbleweed here,” Jimmy Donahoo, a former catfish farmer, said. He, like others in the industry, thinks the producers should be supported by government subsidies, just like other farmers.

At Dillard & Company, they are not waiting for help.

“You focus your resources where you can maximize your profits,” Mr. [Keith} King {president of Dillard] said. All the empty ponds will be planted with soybeans and corn, those two commodities for which there seems boundless appetite.

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  1. rexl

    judging from the lack of comments, i assume there are few in this audience able to comment on the subtleties and tribulations of the catfish farmer.
    go figure.

  2. Tom Lindmark

    Good tongue in cheed post.

    It’s probably the silver lining in the cloud. Not many are going to miss catfish and the scarcity of bacon and other pork products will probably drive up prices, reduce consumption and save countless lives.

    As for subsizing the catfish farmers, there must have been something already in the Katrina relief package to take care of that.

  3. Richard Kline

    When you start selling the past, it’s ’cause that’s all you’ve got left. But I don’t see that we’ll have too many Japanese tourists buying package tours of Yazoo City, MS, so I can see why the effort is yet stillborn.

  4. Peripheral Visionary

    “All the empty ponds will be planted with soybeans and corn, those two commodities for which there seems boundless appetite.”

    But there isn’t “boundless appetite” for them. Unlike gold or stock certificates which can be warehoused indefinitely, corn and soybeans have to be consumed in moderately short order. Demand for corn will be hit by the bankruptcies of ethanol producers and, yes, catfish farmers and hog farmers, while at the same time there is a tremendous supply heading to the market, flooding notwithstanding. There is a tremendous amount of speculation in the commodities markets right now, but I suspect that the commodities speculators will find out, the hard way, that a corn contract can’t be thrown into the recycle bin the way a stack of stock certificates can . . .

    “Wait, you mean we actually have to deliver it?”

  5. Peripheral Visionary

    Or rather:

    (rumbling truck outside swank office building)

    “I got an address here for ’10 Wall Street’, that’s you, where you want yer corn? An’ don’t worry, the other fifteen trucks’ll be comin’ along soon enough”

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