Facing a tepid economy, higher feed costs and an unresolved dispute over USDA inspections of seafood imports, U.S. catfish producers have their collective back against the wall. So, the recently announced 2009 disaster payments will be welcomed, says Ted McNulty, director of the aquaculture division at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

“We’re very pleased that U.S. aquaculture will be receiving $20 million for feed assistance,” said McNulty on Monday afternoon. “Originally, the figure was $50 million but it had to be cut back. Regardless, it will be a tremendous help for farmers because of high feed costs.”

Part of the disaster program that Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, helped secure, the funds have long been a subject of calls to McNulty.

For more on the disaster package, see http://deltafarmpress.com/government/2009-disaster-payments-details.

“I’ve had a lot of smaller farmers, particularly, calling for the last couple of weeks asking if the funds were coming.

“With the current feed prices, the cash flow has run out. Many are having trouble feeding fish and this is the most important time of the year to feed. So, this feed assistance is much needed.

“We’re supposed to get the MoU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) from the FSA this week. Those have to be signed by the end of September. I’m hopeful the money will hit the state by the end of October.”   

Also now available to catfish farmers is the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. To be eligible farmers must sign up at their local FSA office by Thursday (Sept. 23). The program can provide farmers with training, a farm-specific business consultant and $12,000 per eligible participant.

For more on the TAA program, see http://deltafarmpress.com/livestock/deadline-near-catfish-program.

Of the $20 million provided to U.S. aquaculture, McNulty expects Arkansas producers will receive around $3.2 or $3.3 million.

“I was pretty sure this was coming so a lot of people have already been signed up.”

Currently, catfish feed costs are running from $320 to $370 per ton. The five-year average for feed is around $235 per ton.