Catfish feed prices hovered near $250 a ton for two decades before jumping to $600 a ton in the past two years, The New York Times reported Saturday.
"It's impossible to make even a napkin calculation showing that this is profitable," said Craig Tucker, a former director of the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center of Mississippi State University.
A long-time trend in rising feed prices and the recent surge in prices has pushed many catfish farmers out of business during the past year -- helping drive up the price for fish, a benefit for those that remain in business.
A decade ago, Arkansas catfish farms produced 75 million catfish ready for markets, which put the total weight of market-ready catfish at over 100 million pounds. This year's numbers illustrate the exodus from catfish farming, as the state's ready-for-market catfish numbered about 15 million with a total weight of about 20 million pounds.
Catfish farmers got a boost this year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would buy $10 million pounds of catfish above and beyond its normal purchases. The purchase is part of a $170 million purchase of pork, chicken, lamb and fish meant to help farmers hit by the prolonged summer drought.
Experts say the purchase helps, but not enough to turn around a business in which 20 percent of U.S. producers shut down in 2010.
It costs about 75 cents for enough feed to produce a pound of catfish but farmers are getting about 85 cents a pound -- not enough to cover the cost of running a fish farm.
"I think we are seeing a change before our very eyes, quicker than we ever dreamed. We have never had as high a feed cost and at the same time seen our pond-bank price go down," Mr. Barlow said," said Roger Barlow, executive vice president of the Catfish Farmers of America.
Video of Victoria’s Secret models trying to 'twerk' hits Instagram
Britney Spears debuts 'Perfume' video