July 17, 2018
Unlike some farmers who can easily see how their crops are doing, Hale County’s Danny Miller depends on sophisticated monitoring equipment to check water quality and oxygen levels in his catfish ponds. He also uses his 35 years of experience to produce flaky, tasty food he knows will end up on someone’s plate.
Miller’s success in producing quality catfish, along with environmental stewardship, earned him the title of Alabama Catfish Farmer of the Year. The designation was voted on by fellow catfish farmers across the state earlier this year.
“Being Catfish Farmer of the Year is a big honor,” said Miller, who serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Catfish Committee. “We take a lot of pride in what we do on our farm. Raising catfish is a lot of work, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my wife, Sheri, and our family.”
Earlier this year, the Millers attended Seafood Expo North America in Boston, where they joined honorable counterparts from Mississippi and Arkansas and served catfish samples to seafood buyers from around the world.
“I was proud of our U.S. Catfish booth,” Miller said. “It was covered in red, white and blue, and we served 300 pounds of fresh, fried catfish samples. It was a popular stop in the trade show. It’s a good feeling to know you’re growing a delicious, healthy, safe product people love to eat.”
Federation Catfish Division Director Mitt Walker said Alabama’s catfish farms play a significant role in the state’s economy, with about 1,500 Alabamians directly engaged in catfish production or processing. The state’s top catfish-producing counties are Hale, Green, Dallas and Perry counties.
“Alabama farmers produce 33 percent of all catfish in the U.S. annually with 120 million pounds on 85 farms,” he said. “Our state has over 17,000 water surface acres dedicated to catfish production.”
Miller, 63, farms with his father and brother. Their 64 ponds covering 840 acres near Greensboro raise about 6 million pounds of fish a year.
To the untrained eye, raising fish might be easy, Miller said. But nothing could be further from the truth, he added.
“I’m sure there are people who think we just put the fish in the pond and dump out feed until harvest,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”
Fish are fed a diet of corn and soybeans along with minerals and vitamins to help them grow and remain healthy. There was a time when maintaining oxygen levels was a catfish farmer’s biggest concern, Miller said. Today, however, overall fish health demands a lot of time and attention.
Miller’s parents, Dan and AnnaMae, moved to Hale County in 1980 from Ohio, where the family farmed and had a carpentry business specializing in home construction. They built their first two ponds in 1983 and soon discovered catfish were more profitable than soybeans.
“We’ve always tried to be the best at whatever we do,” Miller said. “When we got into the catfish business, it was in its infancy. There was still a lot of growing and learning. We even built our own first feed truck.”
In addition to raising their six children on the farm, the Millers also raise hay and have a herd of Red Angus crossbred cattle. But catfish remains king because it efficiently, sustainably converts feed to pounds of gain, Miller said.
“Our goal has always been to be sustainable and be good stewards of the land,” he said. “Our goal is to produce 8,000 pounds of fish per acre, which converts to 4,000 pounds of fillets. That means we will feed about 16,000 pounds of feed to produce fish just on that one acre.”
Miller credits catfish industry development to Auburn University and the Alabama Fish Farming Center in Greensboro. He credits his success in farming and in life to God.
“I totally believe any success we have had in the past has been a blessing from God,” he said. “Our faith in God has been the best answer for life.”