Apr 25, 2013 by Lee Hart

Farming is farming whether it’s catfish or canola




And I thought the debate over the Canadian Wheat Board was
deep. I have been getting emails lately from Gavin Gibbons of the National
Fisheries Institute, which represents many fish companies in the United States
and it is all about a pending decision on whether to eliminate the U.S. Catfish
Inspection Program.

Now, obviously they came to me, because I have been an
expert catfish fisherman for sometime. (Have I ever

catfish photo small .jpeg

 showed you the Master
Angler fishing awards I got from the Manitoba government??? – probably not.)

Anyway, I have been looking into the U.S. farmed catfish
industry a bit since I have been getting these emails, and my first thought is
“ya, right, what interest is that to anyone but catfish farmers….” but when you
read the stories a lot of times you could substitute Canadian beef, pork,
dairy, chicken or wheat and the story would be just as valid.

Apparently
in the 2008 U.S. Farm Bill there was a provision to begin inspection of farmed
catfish…not only fish produced in the U.S. but also inspection of imported
fish. Apparently Asia has a species of fish, which is similar in appearance and
taste but it is not a true catfish.

From what I am reading, this legislation was introduced in
2008, the USDA has spent $20 million on the program and they have yet to
inspect ONE SINGLE catfish. And apparently it will take another $100 million to
get the program really up and running. (This is sounding a bit like the
Canadian gun registry.)

Now, it appears the Obama administration wants to repeal
this Catfish Inspection Program because it isn’t necessary, and when you are carrying a debt of $13 trillion every penny saved helps.

The National Fisheries Institute would also like to see the
legislation repealed because they say it does nothing to protect food safety,
and is all about creating trade barriers with Asian imports.  The Catfish Farmers of America and a lot of
Republicans on the other hand want catfish inspection implemented to protect
the industry, which is struggling under disappearing margins. (Where have I heard that before?)

HIGH FEED COSTS

News reports tell a story of a declining catfish industry
due to high feed costs and increasing foreign imports of fish. Farmers, in one
report, said it was costing 75 cents in feed to produce one pound of fish (and
it is a two-year process to raise them to market) and they were getting 85 cents
per pound for market-ready fish. For a long time, catfish feed was running at
about $250 per ton, and over the last couple years has soared to $400 to $600
per ton.

Arkansas, for one, use to produce 75 million market-ready fish and now
that is down to 15-million fish.

So I read all this information about the catfish industry
and I am having flashes to topics like Country of Origin Labeling on Canadian
and Mexican beef into the U.S.—let’s protect the U.S. beef producer.  I read about the high feed costs and I am
thinking about the beef and pork industries in Canada facing pressure of high barley and corn prices.

One lobby group for the U.S. catfish industry wants to
protect farmers and keep or make the industry viable, while the other lobby
group is looking at saving money, and keeping markets open so they export more
product.

So it doesn’t matter where you go or what you produce,
farmers run into the same issues. It is not so much about producing food to
feed a hungry world, it’s more about cutting budgets and politics.

I don’t know whether the catfish inspection program should
be repealed or not. It is nice to think some guy who wants to raise catfish can
stay in business, but on other hand agriculture doesn’t turn many wheels
without export markets. And when politicians get involved you don’t know if it
has anything to do with food or protecting the industry, or just about being in
opposition to any idea to improve re-election chances.

My default position on most of these issues is just to swing
everything back to 200 acre, mixed family farms, which produce enough food for
their own use, and then on Friday everyone takes cream to town for sale to make
a few dollars so they can order something from the Sears catalogue.  Maybe we should try that again for 100 years,
because this notion of gearing up to feed the world is apparently very
complicated.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in
Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at
[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Hart

Lee Hart


Lee Hart is a long-time farm writer, and honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, with many observations on the agriculture industry, who never hesitates to admit he is wrong (should that ever happen.)


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