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Figure 5. Antibiotic feed is delivered to catfish farms and stored in commercial feed bins prior to feeding catfish.

Fish and seafood consumption in the United States has been on the rise during the last decade, from 16.8 pounds per person per year in 2012, to 19.2 pounds in 2019. Of this amount, one-half pound of US farm-raised catfish was consumed by each American annually.

2021 Review

In 2021, there were 307 million pounds of live catfish produced in 58,130 acres of water, located primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. In 2021, the US farm-raised catfish industry had major issues with rising catfish feed prices, scarcity of premium-sized (1 to 4 pounds) live fish, and lack of available labor in processing plants and on farms.

Catfish feed delivered for the production of food-size fish was 431,472 tons in 2021, a 7% increase from 2020 levels. Lower foodsize inventory pounds coming into 2021 resulted in an overall 3% decline in catfish pounds processed by years end. The lack of available processing labor also reduced processing capacity, live fish purchases, and processed final products.

Catfish feed delivered for the maintenance of broodstock and for fry and fingerling production was 43,468 tons in 2021, down 11% from 2020 levels. The 2021 beginning fingerling inventory grew into stocker sized fish and small foodsize fish by the end of 2021. Because the foodfish inventory for early 2021 was 7% lower than in early 2020, the total foodsize fish production was less in each month of 2021 compared to 2020, resulting in an overall 3% decline in catfish processing in 2021.

Catfish feed prices increased in 2021 over 2020 prices to highs not seen since 2014. There was a $90/ton increase in 32% crude protein (CP) feed price between the 5-year average price and the 2021 price. There was also a $120/ton increase in 32% CP feed price between 2020 and 2021. Similar large price increases occurred for 28% CP and 35% CP catfish feeds. Twenty-eight percent and 32% CP catfish feed was used for foodsize fish production and added substantially to production costs, as feed costs are more than 50% of all variable costs. In the hatchery sector, 35% or higher CP feed is used for fry and fingerling production at increased cost. Prices rose so swiftly during the February to June period that feed purchases were reduced to a point that it disrupted the fry/fingerling production cycle enough that the annual fry/fingerling feed delivery for 2021 was 11% less than in 2020.


Change in Price of 32% and 28% Catfish Feed

Five-Year Average$401$375
Change From Five-Year Average+$90+$82
Change from 2020+$102+$94


Feed Makeup

Catfish feed is grain based, with soybean meal making up approximately 20% of the ration, corn grain 15%, corn gluten feed 20%, wheat midlings 5%, and cottonseed meal 20%, plus smaller amounts of distillers’ dried grains with solubles, fat/oil, lysine HCl, phytase enzymes, vitamin premix, and trace mineral premix. Predicting catfish feed price direction and magnitude can be approximated by watching USDA’s crop plantings report, weather issues throughout the crop season, and keeping track of these commodity futures fall price contracts.

For instance, the projected September 2022 corn contract was $5.83 per bushel, an increase of $1.20 per bushel from the 2020-2021 estimated ending price. The soybean November 2022 futures contract was $13.86 per bushel, an increase of $3.06 per bushel from the 2020-2021 estimate. Likewise for the soybean meal’s September 2022 contract that showed an increase of $2.50 per bushel from the 2020-2021 estimated price. A $2.00+ margin for wheat occurred between the July 2022 contract and the 2020-2021 estimated price. Thus, at present, all indications are that catfish feed prices will be higher for early 2022 compared to their high 2021 price levels. This will make it more costly for catfish farmers to produce fish in 2022 than in 2021.

On the positive side, catfish producers received higher prices for their live fish from processing plant in 2021. The average weighted price for all catfish size categories was $1.28/lb in 2021. This was $0.12/lb more than the weighted average 2020 price paid, and it was $0.29/lb pound higher than the 2018 price level. These higher prices have definitely helped producers offset the higher feed prices they encountered in 2021. Prices for live foodfish were higher in 2021 due to a live fish shortage, aggravated by lack of personnel at the processing plants, and strong demand by processors for live fish of any size category (excepting the fish that are 8 pounds and above).

2022 Outlook

Catfish feed costs are expected to be as high or higher in 2022 than in 2021 due to increases in freight costs, lack of trucking, higher fuel prices, higher feed ingredient prices and lack of available labor. Paying attention to the number of soybean and corn acres being planted this spring, favorable and/or unfavorable weather conditions, and future contracts for these catfish feed ingredient commodities will provide clues to the direction and magnitude of catfish feed prices in 2022.


US Farm Price Projections

2019/20202020/2021 Estimated2021/2022 ProjectedFeb 2, 2021 Closing Price
Corn$3.56$4.53$5.45$5.83 Sept. 2022
Soybeans$8.57$10.80$12.60$13.86 Nov. 2022
Soybean Meal$299.50$392.31$375.00$404.60 Sept. 2022
Wheat$4.58$5.05$7.15$7.55 July 2022


Higher Prices

However, consumers seem to have adapted to higher prices, and it is expected they will continue buying products at the higher prices. Other protein source prices are going up as well, so it expected that catfish demand will not be dampened and remain strong in 2022.

Round weight (live fish) processing is expected to either remain steady from last year or perhaps decline slightly. This is due to stocker and foodsize catfish inventories being down in January 2022 compared to January 2021 levels. Secondly, the quantity of saleable-sized product coming into 2022 is less than the amount at the beginning of 2021.

Prices to producers (from processors) are expected to remain steady or perhaps increase some in 2022.  This is because producers will face higher feed costs and without higher live fish prices, farmers will not be able to meet processor’s demand for live. Thus, for processors to obtain the same quantity of live fish as they did in 2021, they will likely need to pay higher prices for live fish in 2022.

However, due to the higher feed costs combined with labor shortages at processing plants, processors may not be able to process increased live fish volumes. In that case, catfish producers may have less live fish for processors and end up purchasing less feed in 2022 than in 2021.

Finally, imports of catfish products were high in 2021 (at 256 million pounds of fillets) and will likely continue strong in 2022, whereas exports of US produced catfish was low in 2021 (at 2.2 million pounds)  and will likely remain low in 2022 as well.

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