In an effort to reduce waste, provide an economic impact and diversify their farm, the Kyser family in Hale County built a one-of-a-kind protein facility south of Greensboro.
“Alabama processors were paying $1 million a year to haul offal (inedible catfish parts) to Mississippi,” Bill Kyser said. “We thought if we could take that money, pay for a plant and make a small profit, we’d be doing the whole area a service. As a farmer, that was near to my heart.”
Kyser said he was introduced to the technology, which takes raw offal and converts it to protein meal, several years ago when the Alabama Catfish Producers helped fund research at Auburn University (AU). He was so impressed with the process he bought a stake in the company formed by AU along with three other non-farmer co-owners.
“Part of what gave me confidence to invest in this is how clean the process is for the environment,” Kyser said. “Conventional rendering releases dirtier steam, which requires a few extra steps to clean up, whereas our steam comes out clean. It’s been checked dozens of times to meet emission standards.”
The steam is so clean, Kyser said, the plant could expand 10 times and still be within emission standards.
Alabama Farmers Federation’s Rick Oates said farmers, specifically catfish farmers, are continuing the trend of embracing cutting-edge technology.
“As profit margins narrow, farmers like the Kysers are ever-reliant on technology to help eke out profits to continue farming,” said Oates, who is the Federation’s Catfish Division director. “Since its inception in the 1960s, the catfish industry has continued to rely on innovative and creative approaches to its challenges.”
In the summer of 2012, the Kyser-owned Alabama Protein Products began buying offal from SouthFresh Processors in Eutaw. The plant churns out catfish meal used in specialty animal feed and pet food.
Ashley Kyser, Bill’s youngest son, has helped run the plant for about three years. He said the process and finished product are the same as other rendering plants, but their operation is cleaner because of its patented technology.
“We bring in catfish parts from the processing plant, cook it, dry it, separate the oil and create a fine, dry meal,” Ashley said. “We guarantee 59 percent protein, but we’ve hit up to 60 and 61 percent. We sell the meal as quick as we can make it.”
The pressed oil is used for pelleted animal feed, and the Kysers convert the soupier, unusable meal into a cow feed supplement.
The Kyser plant runs two shifts with two—sometimes three—employees, and it produces about 135,000 pounds of meal a month that’s purchased by a brokerage firm and sent to Missouri.
“Our biggest problem currently is we don’t have enough fish,” said Ashley Kyser, whose older brother, Townsend, helps manage the catfish farm. “We’re running four days a week right now, but my goal is to get us running 24 hours a day, six days a week.”
The younger Kyser said he’s proud of the difference the plant is making in their west Alabama community.
“We’re not employing an army or anything, but we’re providing six good-paying jobs in a rural area,” he said. “We’re being responsible farmers by using every part of the catfish and responsible citizens by doing it in a manner that’s environmentally sound.”