Humble Beginnings

Founded on Family

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William
Bennett Tackett

Heartland Catfish Company was founded in 1995 by William Tackett, his son, Jim Tackett, and son-in-law, Joe Walker. Yet the foundation for the company’s longtime success was built decades before, when 6-year-old William Tackett began his first job for one penny per day. In the years that followed, William developed his work ethic, dedication, integrity, determination and Christian principles that allowed him to guide the growth and success of one of the largest vertically integrated entities in the U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish industry today.

Mr. Tackett and his wife, Marue, began farming in 1948 in Arkansas. In 1964, Mr. Tackett and his family moved to Belzoni in the Mississippi Delta to farm rice, soybeans and cotton. Then, in 1968, he built his first catfish pond in Humphreys County. The next several years saw the family move to Leflore County and Sunflower County, where they continued to farm rice, corn and soybeans, built more catfish ponds and began a catfish hatchery with brooder and fingerling operations.

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Heartland
Catfish Company

The farming operation grew to some 7,500 acres of water for catfish and 10,000 acres of cropland. Frustrated with the difficulties of transporting the vast quantities of fish to various farmer-owned cooperative processors in the area, Mr. Tackett and Tackett Fish Farms launched plans to process their own fish. Thus, in 1995, Heartland Catfish Company was founded. Because of the business and personal principles Mr. Tackett established, Heartland Catfish Company grew rapidly and, in 2000, doubled its processing operation. In 2008, Heartland Catfish purchased a processing facility in Greensboro, Alabama, that further increased the scope of the processing operation.

Mr. Tackett continued to work daily, both in the fish farming and processing aspects of his businesses, until his passing in 2012. It was common to see him, even at 87 years old, driving a bulldozer or motor grader, working on a levee or feeding fish from his one-ton feed truck. He also regularly attended the Board of Directors meetings that oversaw Heartland Catfish Company operations.

Leadership and Legacy

Over the course of his lifelong career, Mr. Tackett served on the Board of Directors of Delta Pride Catfish, Delta Western Feed Mill, Catfish Farmers of America, Catfish Farmers of Mississippi and The Catfish Institute. Mr. Tackett also received various industry awards, including 1989 Catfish Farmers of America Outstanding Farmer, 1992 Delta Council Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to Aquaculture, 2000 Lancaster/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year and 2006 Catfish Farmers of American Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mr. Tackett left behind a legacy of honor, integrity, frugality, determination, hard work and Christian principles. Heartland Catfish Company was founded on this legacy and is proud to continue striving to meet the high standards set forth by our founding father.

Heartland
Catfish History

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Mid 1970s to Mid 1990s
1996
1999
2001
2008
2010
2020

Mid 1970s to Mid 1990s

William Tackett, his son, Jim Tackett, and his son-in-law, Joe Walker, began farming catfish in the Schlater, Mississippi, area. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, their operation, known as Tackett Fish Farms, grew to be some 9,300 water acres of catfish production, making it the single largest catfish operation in the world. As Tackett Fish Farms sold its production to various cooperative processing plants over the years, the family began to consider operating their own processing plant.

1996

After several months of planning and construction, the Tacketts opened Heartland Catfish Company, a 34,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art, catfish processing plant located on Highway 82 in Itta Bena, MS. This location put the plant right on the major regional highway, with most of the catfish production farms nearby. This new plant utilized the best available fish-processing equipment, along with the latest technology for grading product and monitoring process flow. Heartland Catfish Company’s fundamental goal was to provide the freshest, highest quality catfish products more efficiently than anyone else in the industry. In its first year of operation, Heartland Catfish Company processed 12 million pounds of live catfish.

1999

Due to the company’s success and the overall growth of the U.S. Catfish Industry, Heartland Catfish Company expanded operations by adding 22,000 square feet, increasing freezer storage, an employee breakroom area, maintenance shop area and the main office. These enhancements permitted the plant to process 34 million pounds of live catfish per year.

2001

Once again, due to the company’s success and industry growth, Heartland Catfish Company designed and constructed a completely new plant connected to the original facility. 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. With the new plant operational, Heartland Catfish Company added 41 million pounds of capacity, bringing the total capacity to 75 million pounds of live catfish per year.

2008

Due to an ever-increasing supply of live catfish in East Mississippi and West Alabama, Heartland Catfish Company purchased the Southern Pride Catfish plant in Greensboro, AL, from American Seafood Group. Immediately, the company began processing fish from the local area in the Greensboro plant and working to implement the same the state-of-the-art equipment and processes at work in the Mississippi plant. The addition of the Alabama plant brought Heartland Catfish Company’s total capacity to 110 million pounds of live catfish per year.

2010

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. These updates 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. In addition to the processing equipment, Heartland Catfish Company’s Alabama plant also added an ozone generator, which injects ozone into the water used for facility sanitation and minimizes the use of chemicals and gas-heated water. This modernization and efficiency upgrade in the Alabama plant brought the total capacity to 115 million pounds of live catfish per year.

2020

To increase efficiency and improve customer service, Heartland Catfish Company consolidated all processing and packaging operations under one roof at the Itta Bena facility in January 2020. The addition of more than 25,000 square feet of processing and freezer space further increased the company’s industry-leading capacity.