July 4, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald
TRI-CITY, Ky.

John Murdock has been involved in aquaculture for nearly five years. Like many other western Kentucky farmers, Murdock understands there will always be a market for quality catfish in Kentucky and beyond.

In 2000, Murdock led a group of interested farmers in creating the Purchase Area Aquaculture Cooperative in Graves County. At that time, they had 25 members and plans to build a processing facility.

Nearly a year later, the processing plant is up and running, five members are ready to harvest their pond stock and the cooperative has grown to nearly 50 members, producing an average of eight acres each.

"We believe it has a good future and will provide supplemental income for our producers," Murdock said. "We obviously believe it's going to be useful or we wouldn't be putting in additional ponds."

Members of the cooperative come from eight counties in the Purchase Area and one county in the Pennyrile Area. They purchase shares of stock and then purchase processing rights based on cents-per-pound of catfish produced.

Bill Green, Graves County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources said the real winners are the members of the cooperative.

"They have worked so hard and given so much, it's a tribute to them," he said. "Those of us in Extension – we have a good idea but if you don't have people willing to take that idea and work with it, then it's all for nothing."

Green said the goal of the plant is to process fish 48 to 50 weeks per year. The plant has a 40,000 to 50,000-pound storage capacity. The plant can store fish up to three months, but members want to move fish in and out in a four-week period.

Tim Kohl is a cooperative employee and fish producer who thinks the facility has a lot of potential for profit and growth.

"It will go as far as the farmers will take it," he said. "If they want to keep expanding and building more ponds, that's what will carry us. It's going to be the farmer, not this particular building."

Kohl said the cooperative routinely sees three or four farmers each month wanting to know how to get in and get started.

Poultry farmers especially stand to profit from getting into fish production. The poultry animals don't usually take up much land on the farm, leaving many underused acres. Those acres could be made into ponds and produce a viable supplemental income.

"We have diversity. You can do this on a small number of acres," Kohl added. "There's no commodity market to worry about. We set the prices and I think that's more important than anything."

For more information about aquaculture or the Purchase Area Aquaculture Cooperative and Processing Plant, contact your county Cooperative Extension office.

Contact: 

Bill Green 270-247-2334