USDA Value Added Program Helps Taylor FIsh Farm Enter Larger Markets

Posted on 09/20/2018 at 10:30 AM by Christa Hartsook

Sustainability in a farming operation means several things, i.e. how to proceed through market changes, achieve profits and even create lasting positive impacts on surroundings.

Taylor Fish Farm Partnership Inc., located near Cedar Grove, North Carolina, attaches importance to all of those meanings, and through science and novel operational systems underscores a dedication to benefiting surrounding environment and community.  The Taylor enterprise produces 250,000 pounds of tilapia fish annually, supplying restaurants, institutions and retail outlets across 13 states.

“We have entered into some big markets now, where most companies have been around for 20 or more years,” explained Valee Taylor, 62, one of three owner shareholders of the fish farm since its beginning in 2009. It is an entirely family-run operation. Other partners are Taylor’s sister, Renee Stewart, and a brother, Dr. Jerry Taylor. While the tilapia production was added in 2009, the farm spans four generations of Taylor family ownership and includes cattle, hog, chicken and crop production.

In 2015, the Taylor Fish Farm received a three-year USDA Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) to assist in processing and creating a market for tilapia fillets. The $250,000 award is in its third and final year and has been matched dollar for dollar by investment from the farm.

“The VAPG is helping us make an introduction into that larger volume, mainstream market,” he said. The larger tilapia suppliers fill orders with a lot of imported fish. “We’ve had to learn to play hard ball,” said Taylor, explaining that It takes three years to develop a market. It’s a long process, and it can be especially difficult for small farmers, particularly African American farmers. “We’ve had to change our model” with what has been learned, he said. Taylor further explained that such large-scale pricing competition is even more difficult with live crops, like tilapia.

Taylor remains positive about the outcome of reliance on near-total sustainability and shared responsibility of the operation and the healthier fish production model it uses. The farm’s website graphically demonstrates the process flow for the Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) used. In keeping with sustainable community definitions, the Taylor family donated 5 acres of land to the Cedar Grove United Methodist Church to help create a community garden that feeds 187 families 32 weeks a year.

VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops and how they may deliver greater returns to producers. Producers and ranchers, cooperatives and other agricultural businesses can find a wide-ranging set of tools and information to help them in pursuing VAPG funding at the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC).

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