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Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686

MONTGOMERY Alabama catfish producers will go to the polls Tuesday, March 14, to decide whether the state catfish checkoff program should be continued for five more years at the current rate of 50 cents per ton of feed manufactured and sold in Alabama. All catfish producers who purchased catfish feed in the state in the year immediately preceding and not less than 30 days prior to the referendum shall be eligible to cast votes in the referendum. In other words, any catfish producer who has purchased catfish feed in Alabama before Feb. 14, 2000 is eligible to vote.

The first Alabama catfish checkoff program was approved by a 91.7 percent vote in 1989. Alabama law requires a statewide producer referendum to be held every five years on whether the program should be continued. If approved, checkoff funds would be used to finance research, education and promotion activities aimed at furthering development of the state's multi-million-dollar catfish industry.

Dickie Odom, chairman of the Alabama Catfish Producers, said the checkoff program has been especially valuable in funding research activities.

"Since 1994, all U.S. catfish feed mills have contributed $5 per ton of feed produced for catfish promotion through The Catfish Institute. As a result, we have been able to use Alabama catfish checkoff dollars to fund research programs that directly benefit farmers," Odom said. Thanks to improved fish health, genetics and environmentally sound management practices developed by the researchers, Odom said Alabama's catfish industry is now a $300 million a year business. Much of that growth, Odom said, has happened since the first catfish checkoff referendum in 1989. According to the Alabama Catfish Producers, Alabama catfish growers purchased 136,000 tons of feed in 1998, compared to 46,000 tons in 1989. "That is a strong indication of how far this industry has come in just 10 years," Odom said.

The checkoff program is voluntary. Funds are collected from feed manufacturers and remitted to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, which turns over the funds quarterly to the Alabama Catfish Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation. A producer committee representing Alabama Catfish Producers members across the state determines how the funds are distributed.

On March 14, Alabama catfish producers will be able to vote between 8 a.m. and the close of business at their county polling sites. No proxy voting will be allowed, and no ballots will be accepted via mail. For more information about voting locations in your area, contact Jimmy Carlisle at (334) 613-4214 or 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4214.

The referendum is authorized by Acts of 1987, No. 87-587 of the Alabama Legislature's 1987 regular session, as amended by Acts of 1993, No. 93-625.

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