Catch of the day

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, August 6, 2008

GREENSBORO — It was easy for U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions to sympathize with the Kyser family.

Sessions listened to the concerns of the owners of one of the state’s largest catfish farms — concerns that plague the Kyser’s neighbors and competitors as well.

Sessions settled in for a tour of Kyser Farm, then ate lunch with the family. While the group ate, they talked.

“Our main problem right now is the high cost of feed, which is driven by the price of the commodities that go into them — corn and soybeans and the like — which have doubled and tripled,” Bill Kyser said. “Feed cost last year was $250 a ton; this year feed is costing $425 to $430 a ton and we don’t ever expect it to go back to $250.”

After the farm saw a profit in 2007, this year shows signs of a significant economic slowdown, mirroring the economy of the rest of the country.

“We can only hope we will make it back next year,” he said. “There is no way we will not lose money this year.”

The stop in Greensboro was the second of the day for Sessions, who is campaigning for his third term in the Senate.

His opponent is Democratic nominee Vivian Figures, a state senator.

Sessions said he would continue fighting for farmers in areas like West Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“The high cost of feed, of energy and everything else associated with the industry has combined for a very bad year for them,” Sessions said.

“There are some things we can do in Congress, such as push for disaster relief legislation in the wake of the drought, and some things we have already done to protect them from imports, many of them illegal. But the overall solution will have to be in a better economy.”

At the Kyser’s farm in Greensboro, things don’t look bad — yet. The farm boasts 500 catfish ponds that cover 700 acres.

Each pond represents an investment of about $3,000 an acre in converting the land from the rolling hills of failed dairy farms to the current fish ponds.

“We own, lease or operate land where six dairy farms used to be,” Kyser said.

Then there’s another $3,000 investment for food and fingerlings — small fish — for each pond. Add in $1 million in equipment, and it’s easy to see the sizeable investment the Kysers have made in their farm.

That’s why economic downturns like these are so worrisome for family-owned businesses, Sessions said.