Heartland Catfish History
Mid 1970’s to Mid 1990’s
William Tackett, his son, Jim Tackett, and his son-in-law, Joe Walker, began farming catfish in the Schlater, Mississippi, area. Their operation, known as Tackett Fish Farms, grew through the 1980’s and 1990’s to be some 9,300 water acres of catfish production, making it the single largest catfish operations in the world. Tackett Fish Farms’ production was sold to various cooperative processing plants over the years, but as their operation grew, the idea of operating their own processing plant also grew.
After several months of planning and construction, the Tackett’s opened Heartland Catfish Company, a 34,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art, catfish processing plant located on Highway 82 near Itta Bena, MS. This location put the plant right on the major highway in the region, but also kept the plant close to the majority of their catfish production ponds. This new plant utilized the best available fish processing equipment, along with the latest technology for grading the product and for monitoring the process flow. The basis of the new company was to provide the freshest, highest quality catfish products more efficiently than anyone else in the industry. In the first year of operation, Heartland Catfish processed 12,000,000 pounds of live catfish.
Due to the success of the company and the growth of the U.S. Catfish Industry, Heartland Catfish expanded operations by adding 22,000 square feet that increased freezer storage, employee breakroom area, maintenance shop area and main office. The plant was then capable of processing 34,000,000 pounds of live catfish per year.
Again, due to the company’s success and the industry growth, Heartland Catfish designed and built a completely new plant that was connected to the original plant. This new 78,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art plant utilized the latest in technology for every aspect of the process, from filleting, trimming and grading the fish to freezing, packing, handling and storing the product. The addition also included a new breakroom/cafeteria, new production offices and a new holding freezer. This new plant added 41,000,000 pounds of capacity to bring the total capacity to 75,000,000 pounds of live catfish per year.
Due to an ever-increasing supply of live catfish in East Mississippi and West Alabama, Heartland Catfish purchased the Southern Pride Catfish plant in Greensboro, AL, from American Seafood Group. Immediately, Heartland began processing fish from the local area in the Greensboro plant and working to bring the state-of-the-art equipment and processes used in our Mississippi plant to the Alabama plant. The addition of the Alabama plant brought Heartland’s total capacity to 110,000,000 pounds of live catfish per year.
Heartland Catfish Company completely reworked the main processing area in the Alabama plant to install the latest process flow equipment and upgraded kill and filleting equipment. This included adding live fish grading systems, chill water tanks for live fish and fillets, automated grading consoles, automated sorting and packing lines, and new retail bagging equipment. An ozone generator was added to inject ozone into the water used to sanitize the facility without using as much chemical and gas-heated water. This modernization and efficiency upgrade in Alabama brought the total capacity to 115,000,000 pounds of live catfish per year.