Alabama catfish producers will go to the polls Tuesday, March 8, to decide whether the state catfish checkoff program should be continued for five more years at the current rate of 50 cents per ton of feed manufactured and sold in Alabama. Producers who have purchased feed within 30 days of the referendum will be eligible to vote.

The first Alabama catfish checkoff program was approved by a 91.7 percent vote in 1989. Alabama law requires a statewide producer referendum to be held every five years on whether the program should be continued. If approved, checkoff funds would be used to finance research, education and promotion activities aimed at furthering the state’s multi-million dollar catfish industry.

Butch Wilson, chairman of Alabama Catfish Producers, says the checkoff program has been especially valuable in funding research activities.

“Since 1994, U.S. catfish feed mills have contributed $5 per ton of feed produced for catfish promotion through The Catfish Institute. As a result, we have been able to use Alabama catfish checkoff dollars to fund research programs that directly benefit farmers,” says Wilson.

Thanks to improved fish health, genetics and environmentally sound practices developed by researchers, Wilson says Alabama’s catfish industry is now a $300 million per year business. Much of that growth, he says, has occurred since the first catfish checkoff referendum in 1989.

According to the Alabama Catfish Producers, Alabama catfish growers purchased 230,000 tons of feed in 2003, compared to 46,000 tons in 1989. “That is a strong indication of how far this industry has come in just 15 years,” says Wilson.

Although the program is voluntary, Wilson says the checkoff has experienced 100 percent participation from catfish producers during the past 10 years.

Funds collected from feed manufacturers are remitted to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, which turns over the funds quarterly to the Alabama Catfish Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation. A producer committee representing Alabama Catfish Producers members across the state determines how the funds are distributed.

On March 8, Alabama catfish producers will be able to vote between 8 a.m. and the close of business at their county polling sites. No proxy voting will be allowed, and no ballots will be accepted via mail.

For more information, contact Jimmy Carlisle at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4214 or 1-334-613-4214 or e-mail jcarlisle@alfafarmers.org