Alabama catfish farmers will receive $3.1 million in federal relief through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Livestock Compensation Program, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries announced on Wednesday. The aid is expected to be distributed early this year.

The aid will help the state's ailing catfish farmers, who have endured droughts, hurricanes and tornados over the past two years, stay afloat, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said in a press release.

"The drought in Alabama has taken a tremendous toll on all segments of agriculture, and catfish producers have certainly not been spared," said Mitt Walker, director of the Alabama Catfish Producers. "High water temperatures, coupled with lower water levels brought on by the drought and excessive heat, reduced the ability of farmers to feed catfish to optimal levels and resulted in lost weight gains."

Alabama, home to 185 catfish farms, is the nation's No. 2 catfish producer behind Mississippi. Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana represent about 95 percent of the nationâ??s catfish harvest.

Last year, 496 million pounds of catfish were processed nationwide, down 12 percent from 2006, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service reported yesterday. At year's end, 15.1 million pounds were in inventory, down 17 percent from the end of 2006.

Farmers received an average of 76.7 cents a pound in 2007, down from 79.5 cents the previous year. Processors received an average of $2.44 a pound in 2007, down from $2.46 in 2006.

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