Changing with the market, Travis Wilson’s father transitioned from cattle to catfish when row crop farmers suffered in the 1980s.

Now Wilson eats catfish a couple of times a month and, diverting from Southern tradition, he prefers it grilled with some “Southern Flavoring” seasoning.

To preserve his way of life, he continues the farm’s evolution alongside his dad and brother-in-law.

“It’s a great way to raise a family and have your family and your kids on the farm and all together,” he says.

Alabama catfish farm diversifies its operation with tilapia and hydroponic lettuce

Devoted to growing its fish business, Wilson Farms worked in a joint venture with the United Soybean Board and Auburn University to test tilapia. That allowed the family to build a barn with 10 tanks, each capable of producing 10,000 tilapia every six months. With the filtration system, Wilson only adds 1 percent fresh water to the tanks daily. That filter also allows the collected fertilizer to be used for vegetables in a hydroponic greenhouse.

The tilapia marks only the newest way the farm has become more sustainable and efficient.

In 2006, the family installed an in-point catfish raceway, also in conjunction with Auburn University. Through this system, which involves keeping the fish in more tightly controlled areas within the pond, Wilson can concentrate his aeration efforts on certain raceways, which reduces his energy needs. He’s still determining if the system is worth incorporating into all 450 acres, but so far it has helped achieve better feed-rate conversions while allowing him to study what treatments work best for sick fish and monitor pounds per acre.

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Catfish are going to be a mainstay just as cattle have always been on this farm, he says. The tilapia are new and going swimmingly, but he’s considering options.

“We’re always looking for a door that’s open and looks better than the one we’re looking though now,” he says.


  1. This is called aquaponics. It is merging aquaculture and hydroponics. The fish, and vegetation reduce waste and energy. Tilapia is a great choice.
    The fish, crayfish, or even shrimp’s water is pumped or siphoned to the non-soil grow beds , they absorb the nutrient rich water, the plants filter the water and it is returned to the fish then back to the grow beds. It is quit a simple system. One can even build a home aquaponics with one or two 55 gallon barrels. On a commercial basis the water use is greatly diminished if is a closed system and it is ecologically friendly providing truly organic vegetation and aquatics.


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