Catfish producers will soon be able to participate in the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Aimed at providing U.S. farmers stronger footing in increasingly hostile markets, the program can provide training, a farm-specific business consultant and $12,000 per eligible participant.

However, the time to sign up is short. To beat the deadline, farmers must sign up at their local FSA office by Thursday (Sept. 23).

On Monday, Delta Farm Press spoke with Carole Engle, chair/director of the Aquaculture/Fisheries Center at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB) about the program. Among Engle’s comments:

Please explain what the TAA program is…

“The TAA program is designed to provide help to farmers who have been harmed by competition from imports. Catfish petitioned to be included and was approved.

“It’s very important that participating catfish farmers must sign up with their local FSA office by Sept. 23 (Thursday).

“A blanket approval has been set up for farmers in many states including Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina. That means as long as farmers can show they were producing catfish in 2009 and one year of the prior three years they’ll automatically qualify and be eligible.

“But they still must go by their FSA office by Thursday. They need to get signed up.

On the next step…

Following sign-up “farmers must attend training. There are trainings being organized in other states but Arkansas is offering the first at UAPB on Oct. 7 – the same day as our annual catfish field day.

“In the morning, we’ll hold our regular field day with research and Extension demonstrations. The first TAA training – the ‘initial training’ -- will take place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. that the farmers must go through.

“After that, they must have 12 hours of intensive training. We’ll offer the first three hour training module that same day, Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Farmers will have their mileage reimbursed by FSA for attending that initial training session.

“As for the other nine training hours they need, we’ll offer those as part of the annual convention of Catfish Farmers of Arkansas on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29 next year. That will take place in Pine Bluff at the Waterfront Center and Regional Park.

“If farmers will come to the Oct. 7 field day, the trainings that afternoon and those on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29, they’ll qualify for a $4,000 payment to compensate them for their time.

“Farmers from any state can attend any training they wish, in any state, or they can take the trainings online. We’re offering these face-to-face trainings to make the training as convenient as possible. Farmers from any state are welcome to attend the Arkansas trainings.

“After (training), the farmer will be assigned a business consultant who will work with them one-on-one to help develop a comprehensive business plan.”