By: Matthew A. Smith, Extension Aquaculture Specialist
Approximately 40 people joined Ohio State University’s (OSU) round table to discuss aquaculture in Ohio the Thursday night before the OAA/OCAFS annual meeting in late January 2018. OSU asked several southern region researchers to be present to offer a different perspective to Ohio farmers on aquaculture production in the U.S. over the last few decades. Production experts, Dr. Les Torrans (USDA ARS) and Dr. Craig Tucker (USDA ARS), and aquaculture economist Dr. Carole Engle (Engle-Stone Aquatic$) were active in the conversation. Between these three researchers, they have a combined aquaculture experience of approximately 100 years. With their rich catfish history, the group conversation quickly turned to marketing, perseverance, and cooperatives. Over the last few decades, the United States (US) catfish industry has certainly constricted and is due in part to a substantial increase in feed prices, lower fillet prices, and overall lower demand as a result of cheaper importers. The advice and respect shown by the researchers for those catfish farmers who are actively involved in their marketing plans by going out and talking to their customers and creating a strong bond was evident. They encouraged any fish/shrimp producer seeking to develop or expand their food market to continually to be active marketers by selling themselves, their farm, and their product to their customers to ensure they stand out from the competition. By having a more intimate relationship with their customer base, it was discussed that many are capable of receiving a higher price for their product.
Examples were given of farmers who were able to stay financially stable during economic hardships due to their strong customer base and loyalty to these businesses. In particular, one farm was mentioned for their dedication to their customers and also their customer’s loyalty to that particular farm. This farmer has continually held himself to standards that enable not only the restaurant owner to know who he is but anyone who comes into the establishment. If a restaurant purchases fillets from him, the restaurant is given a framed portrait of the farmer/farm and plaque to hang up in their restaurant. This reveals that the farmer believes in their product and is willing to be potentially criticized (hopefully praised) by the chefs, customers, and anyone else who visits the restaurant and consumes their product. There is no red tape involved. I strongly believe that if Ohio is to develop a strong food fish/shrimp market that farmers will need to develop more active marketing plans that involve improving the general public’s perspective on farming and will occur over time through active communication, high-quality products, and consistent supply. OSU Extension and the OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives are involved in a recently established Ohio aquaculture steering committee; which is investigating the feasibility of a purchasing cooperative. The OSU South Centers programs are here to help and look forward to seeing aquaculture prosper in Ohio over time.