Gazebo Gazette

Mississippi will benefit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to purchase $20 million worth of surplus U.S. farm-raised catfish.

“Section 32” is a permanently authorized program which allows the Secretary of Agriculture to carry out emergency purchases of surplus U.S. commodities which are then distributed to domestic food assistance programs. Rather than federal tax dollars, the program is funded through a 30 percent appropriation of the previous year’s customs receipts collected by the U.S. Government from imported products.

United States Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, as Senator and as the then-Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, had encouraged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to use the USDA Section 32 Program to buy surplus catfish products for use in various food nutrition assistance programs.

Section 32 purchases help our catfish growers and processors by reducing frozen catfish inventory and making room for new fish crops. This significant buy will help feed the needy while boosting the market for U.S. farm-raised catfish, with no impact on federal spending or the national debt,” Hyde-Smith said. “It is National Catfish Month and this is a positive development for Mississippi and other catfish-producing states.”

The USDA will soon issue solicitations for the catfish purchases on its Web-Based Supply Chain Management system. Additional information will be posted on the Agricultural Marketing Service website: The catfish “bonus buy” is part of a plan to purchase more than $70 million in commodities, including turkey, chicken, and beans.

Commercial catfish operations in Mississippi had 62.2 million food-size fish on hand on July 1, 2018, more than the other leading catfish producing states of Arkansas and Alabama.

“Given the continued efforts of foreign countries such as Vietnam and China to flood the U.S. market with cheaper, inferior catfish products, the slightest increase in U.S. supply can lead to depress domestic prices. I am pleased Secretary Perdue has decided to proceed with this purchase, which in addition to other benefits, will serve as a defense mechanism to unfair foreign trade practices,” Hyde-Smith said.

Mississippi catfish growers earned $214.59 million in sales in 2017, 56 percent of the total U.S. sales of $379.7 million. The Magnolia State has the most water surface acres for catfish production, with most of the 56,200 acres located in the Mississippi Delta and Lowndes and Noxubee counties.