Growing up, Birmingham-native Kent Houlditch never expected his path in life would take him down a dirt road. When he looks back on things now, this year’s Catfish Farmer of the Year said he’s glad to be far removed from that city grit.
“If I looked at the roads in my life, there wasn’t a dirt road around that was gonna put me in Greene County, and yet here I am today,” said 35-year-old Houlditch, who has managed Partlow Catfish, LLC in Boligee since 2003. “You never know where life’s gonna take you.”
Situated on 1,100 acres, Partlow Catfish Farm produces channel catfish in 250 acres of water, with a small percentage of hybrid catfish production mixed in. The rest of the land is used as wildlife habitat.
Though the farm began with only seven ponds and a few hundred acres in the mid-90s, it quickly grew to a successful operation, yielding more than 2 million pounds of catfish per year. It isn’t the success of the operation that Houlditch said was the reason he thinks he was selected as this year’s Catfish Farmer of the Year, however.
“I think the other farmers out there understand the hard work I put into the farm every day, handling everything by myself without hiring anything out,” he said. “Either that, or they just ran out of options.”
Houlditch is chairman of the Greene County Young Farmers Committee. He was selected as the nominee by the Alabama Catfish Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, during the annual Commodity Producers Organizational Conference in February. The nomination was confirmed by the Catfish Farmers of America.
As Alabama’s Catfish Farmer of the Year, Houlditch represented the state March 11-13 at the International Boston Seafood Show, the nation’s largest seafood event. He will also appear in promotional advertising for the Catfish Farmers of America.
While Houlditch is humbled by being recognized as this year’s honoree, he said the greatest reward has been doing what he loves and producing a healthy product.
“As a producer, it’s important to me to make sure that what we’re putting on dinner tables is safe to eat and affordable,” he said. “I know first-hand what goes into a grain-fed catfish, and I know the quality of water our fish are raised in. At the end of the day, I can hang my hat knowing that I’m raising the best fish I can.”
Houlditch and his wife, Amanda, have two children - Lorali, 9, and Roper, 5.
Alabama has about 200 catfish farmers who grow fish in 19,200 acres of water. The state ranks second in the nation in catfish production.
For more information on the Alabama Catfish Producers, visit AlfaFarmers.org/commodities/catfish.phtml.