Hale County farmer Bill Kyser has raised catfish for 47 years, since his father built the first commercial catfish ponds in Alabama. Nearly five decades of experience and dedication to improving his farm earned Kyser the distinction of being named Alabama’s 2014 Catfish Farmer of the Year.
Peers in the Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Catfish Committee selected Kyser for the honor. He was recognized at the Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) Annual Convention in New Orleans, La., earlier this year.
“I’ve always loved the water, from the Black Warrior River and the Gulf of Mexico to the catfish ponds around the house,” Kyser said. “I knew catfish farming was a good farming enterprise I could do to make a living here in Hale County. I enjoy it because there’s something new and different to do every day.”
Kyser Family Farms has 850 acres of water in 50 ponds that grow 5 million pounds of catfish annually. As times change, Kyser relies on hard work, creativity and innovation to ensure his farm adapts.
The most recent development is the addition of an offal processing plant, which converts catfish remnants from processing plants into high-protein meal and oil for animal feed.
“Hale County is the catfish capital of Alabama, and we want to do everything we can to keep it that way,” said Kyser, who farms with his sons Townsend and Ashley. “Anything we can do to employ the people in Hale County is not only good for me, it’s good for this area. My grandchildren are being raised here, and I want them to be raised in a good environment.”
Alongside the Mississippi and Arkansas Catfish Farmers of the Year, Kyser traveled to Boston to serve farm-raised catfish to more than 2,000 attendees at the International Seafood Show March 16-18. The trio is featured in CFA ads and are spokesmen for U.S. catfish farmers.
“The Kysers are wonderful examples of hard-working Alabama folks who embrace new technologies to improve their farm,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Catfish Division Director Rick Oates. “Bill has obviously passed his passion for farming on to his children and grandchildren. He will be a great representative for the catfish industry this year.”
Kyser said he always tells people buying farm-raised catfish helps feed the children.
“And when I’m asked, ‘Which children?’ I say, ‘My momma’s children!’” he said. “There’s a lot of people in this country who want to support local farms and are concerned about where their food comes from. We want them to get a good warm feeling in their hearts, as well as their stomachs, when they’re eating our catfish. It’s a healthy, wholesome product, and consumers are supporting U.S. farmers.”
Catfish farming generates $158.2 million in economic impact for Alabama and employs 5,829 people in the state, according to a recent study from Auburn University.
Visit CatfishFarmersofAmerica.com for more information on the CFA.