Delta Catfish Farmers at the Crossroads
Or, 'I Believe They're Sinking Down'
Catfish farming, which was one of the few bright spots in the Mississippi Delta economy, is grinding to a halt at an alarming pace, according to the New York Times. It is a victim of the rapid rise in feed costs; corn and soybean prices have tripled in the last two years. Catfish farmers simply cannot afford to buy food for their fish and are draining their ponds.
“It’s a dead business,” said John Dillard, who pioneered the commercial farming of catfish in the late 1960s. Last year Dillard & Company raised 11 million fish. Next year it will raise none. People can eat imported fish, Mr. Dillard said, just as they use imported oil.
As for his 55 employees? "Those jobs are gone."
An industry that at one point provided 10,000 jobs in the hard-luck Delta region is now reduced to minnow status.
Having spent some time in the Delta in the last year, I can tell you it is one of the most interesting areas of the country socioeconomically and culturally. As a blues fan, I was thrilled to visit Robert Johnson's grave. As a serious eater, I will tell you there's no better place to eat soul food, steak, tamales, onion rings, and broiled pompano than the Mississippi Delta. The tamales at Doe's and everywhere else on the Delta tamale trail, the pompano at Lusco's, the onion rings at Giardina's, the barbecue at Spooney's, and the soul food at Mattie's represent some of my fondest eating memories of the past year.
The fact that the catfish farms are going out of business is a tragedy of almost biblical proportions. If the late, great Delta bluesman Robert Johnson were alive today, he would surely be singing the blues about the state of catfish farming.
First cotton, now catfish. The Viking Range Corporation might be the Delta's last best hope.