Derry Bone was raised on a cattle farm in Marion Junction, but when it came time to strike out on his own, Bone traded pasture land for ponds.
“I was hungry for change, and I wanted to try something different,” Bone said.
His skill and dedication earned him the title of Alabama’s 2013 Catfish Farmer of the Year. Bone was selected as this year’s winner by the Alabama Catfish Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, at the annual Commodity Organizational Conference Feb. 12 in Montgomery. He was recognized in February at the Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) Annual Convention in Little Rock, Ark.
“I am really honored to receive the recognition,” said Bone, who has worked for David Pearce Catfish Farms in Dallas County for 18 years. “I work for a great family, and I hope I can represent the state well.”
Bone represented Alabama’s catfish industry at the International Boston Seafood Show March 9-12. It’s the largest seafood show in America. He will be featured in promotional ads for CFA with the Mississippi and Arkansas catfish farmers of the year.
As Alabama’s honoree, Bone will focus much of his time away from the ponds talking to restaurant owners and grocers to be certain they’re buying U.S. farm-raised catfish. He urges consumers to do the same.
“I want them to know where their fish come from and demand the best,” he said. “I think restaurant owners can do a better job making sure their employees know where the catfish they serve comes from and everything else on the menu, too.”
Bone manages 121 ponds on 1,387 acres. In an average year, the farms raise 13-14 million pounds of channel catfish. As manager, he does a little bit of everything at the farm.
“Everyday is a different challenge,” Bone said. “Trying to work through it can be aggravating. The fish business is tough financially right now, but it will turn around.”
As a native of the Black Belt, Bone said he knows how important catfish farming is for the area’s economy. Although foreign competition of an inferior product has affected the business, he’s hopeful consumers will return to the high-quality fish provided by Alabama farmers.
“First of all, you know what you’re getting with our fish, and second, you’re helping your neighbors,” Bone said.
He and his wife, Annabelle, have two sons. Taylor, 20, is a junior at The University of West Alabama, and John Ross, 14, is a student at Morgan Academy.
Alabama has about 200 catfish farmers who grow fish in 19,200 acres of water. Catfish farms contribute more than $150 million to Alabama’s economy and provide almost 6,000 jobs, according to a recent economic impact study. The state ranks second in the nation in catfish production, behind Mississippi.
For information on the Alabama Catfish Producers, visit AlfaFarmers.org/commodities/catfish.phtml.