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Under trade program: Help available for catfish farmers

Louisiana catfish producers who lost money on their commodity in 2002 may get some of it back. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service has certified a petition for catfish producers in 18 states who filed for financial aid under the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers program.

“Anyone who sold fish in 2002 is eligible for payments through this program,” said Gene Boquet, an LSU AgCenter agent for aquaculture and farm financial management stationed in Winnsboro. “Payments will be made after applications are approved. This could take several months.”

Boquet says catfish farmers need to fill out an application (FSA-229), available from their local Farm Service Agency offices or at on the Internet, to begin the process of qualifying for the funds.

The LSU AgCenter also will be offering technical assistance to producers in Louisiana. “This technical assistance will be such that it will help producers evaluate opportunities to improve production efficiencies, to pursue alternative or improved marketing, and to look at alternative enterprises potentially suitable for the geographic area,” Boquet said.

Information concerning the time, date and place of the technical assistance programs will be available early next year, he said.

As for the financial assistance available from the federal program, producers have until Feb. 17, 2004, to submit their applications to FSA. After applications are completed and submitted, technical assistance and training will begin.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program is a result of an amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. The Trade Act of 1974 was created by Congress to provide business owners and their employees relief from hardships created by unfair foreign import competition.

An investigation by the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service shows that increased imports of catfish and fillets, known as basa or tra, from the Vietnamese in 2002 created a decline in domestic prices for catfish producers in 18 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Fish producers in these states filed for financial aid under the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers program, and the USDA has certified the petition.

The payment rate will be 0.3 cent per pound of fish sold in 2002.

“It's a good idea,” Boquet said. “The problem is the payment rate is very small. And the more people who apply for funds through this program, the smaller the payments will be for producers.”

A. Denise Coolman writes for the LSU AgCenter (318-366-1477 or [email protected]).

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