UAPB feed study could help catfish farmers boost bottom line
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By: Bobbie Crockett
PINE BLUFF (February 11) – Catfish farmers in Arkansas and elsewhere have seen higher feed costs eat away at their profits. A 2009 feed study by the Aquaculture/Fisheries Center of Excellence at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff could help producers make better choices about fish diets.
Catfish farmers have been dealing with higher feed costs driven by higher soybean, corn and wheat prices. The previous five-year average cost of feed was $235 per ton, but in 2008 most farmers paid between $375 and $425 a ton. To try to reduce those costs, the Arkansas-based feed mill ARKAT Nutrition Inc. along with Aquaculture/Fisheries Center nutritionist Dr. Rebecca Lochmann, are testing traditional diets along with some new catfish feed formulations. Dr. Carole Engle, center director and aquaculture economist, is doing economic analysis on the results of the studies.
“Feed prices have been going up, but catfish prices remain static so farmers asked if we could use cheaper diets and still get good yield,” Dr. Lochmann said.
The pond study, conducted May 2009 to October 2009, focused on catfish that were fed three different 28 percent protein diets: premium, standard or sub-optimal.
The Aquaculture/Fisheries Center tested their performance to give producers good information with which to make decisions. Less costly, but still reliable feed could translate into an improved bottom line for fish farmers across Arkansas and beyond, Dr. Lochmann said.
According to study results, harvested fish that ate the premium diet, weighed more, on average, than fish that ate either the standard diet or sub-optimal diet. The average weight of fish that ate the standard diet was higher than the fish that ate the sub-optimal diet. However, all of the fish were of marketable size.
The most important finding in terms of profit, was that yield of fish that ate the premium diet was similar to that of fish that ate the standard diet. However, the yield of the fish fed the premium diet was significantly higher than the yield of those fed the sub-optimal diet.
At the beginning of the study, the estimated costs of the diets were $344 a ton for the premium; $317 a ton for the standard and $307 a ton for the sub-optimal. A partial budget analysis showed a savings of $91 per acre from using the standard diet rather than the premium diet.
“This study showed that you can cut feed costs somewhat and still maintain your profitability,” Dr. Lochmann said.