SeafoodSource recently interviewed CEO Danny Walker to talk about his work in the catfish industry. SeafoodSource is the leading international online business schools in the seafood industry. They pride themselves in providing educational information in all things seafood.
This interview was originally written by Joanne Friedrick and found on SeafoodSource. It is available for premium subscribers of SeafoodSource and can be accessed in their Seafood Business Insider section here.
SeafoodSource: What was the path, especially as it relates to the seafood/catfish industry, that you took to get where you are today?
Walker: My path to the catfish industry started in finance. After graduating from Mississippi State University, I landed a position at First Delta PCA, an agricultural lender in the Mississippi Delta. Over the next 10 years I was exposed to many aspects of the catfish industry as it pertains to financing needs—from large complex catfish farms to processing plants and feed mills. I was fascinated with all aspects of the industry, especially the capital-intensive nature of it, and the dual role of activity in both the agricultural and manufacturing industries.
In that period, I was fortunate enough to establish a working relationship with Tackett Fish Farms. Over the years as their operation increased in size and complexity, they (Owners William Tackett, Jim Tackett and Joe Walker) offered me the opportunity to go work for them to help them achieve their long-term business goals. Within a few short years, they launched Heartland Catfish Company and named me CEO to guide its future.
SeafoodSource: What has been your biggest accomplishment in your job?
Walker: I think my biggest accomplishment and something that I’m very proud of has been providing a high-quality, center-of-the-plate protein to individuals and families. I would also have to add that Heartland Catfish has provided careers for hundreds of families in some of the poorest regions of Mississippi and Alabama. We are helping put our friends and neighbors to work, putting them on a career path that they can be proud of.
SeafoodSource: What are the major challenges facing the catfish industry currently and what solutions do you offer for these challenges?
Walker: I would say there is one major challenge facing the catfish industry and that is the continual influx of foreign competition coming in below our cost of production, decreasing the size of our domestic industry. This imported product is often produced in conditions that would not meet our U.S. production standards, putting domestic production at a disadvantage and weakening our food supply.
As a result, we see an increased frequency of short and long inventories in our supply chain. Our focus is to continue to put pressure on unfair foreign competition through the International Trade Court, and to work through marketing to differentiate our product from foreign products as much as possible. We also want to more closely match supply with demand to create a more predictable marketplace for our customer base.
SeafoodSource: What will you do to make your business different/better in 2020 from how it is in 2019?
Walker: We are investing in our own success in three key business areas—capital projects, marketing, and research and development. First, we are investing in more capital projects to increase efficiency; second, we are investing in more marketing promotions to increase awareness of our brand in the marketplace; and third, we are investing in various research and development projects both on the processing side and the product offering side.
SeafoodSource: What are three things people would be surprised to learn about you?
Walker: I have called Greenwood, Mississippi, my home for my entire life; even though I am around fish every day at Heartland Catfish, I love fishing and bow fishing on the weekends; and I played drums in a rock band in my Mississippi State days.
SeafoodSource: Where is the most interesting place your job has taken you?
Walker: The most interesting place my job has taken me is Iceland. I got to spend two weeks there in 2000, and it was a great place to visit. In addition to visiting all of the main tourist spots such as the Blue Lagoon and taking in the breathtaking landscape, I most enjoyed sampling their cuisine. As the country is surrounded by ocean, you can imagine their diet is very seafood-heavy. It was very interesting and delicious to get to sample so many different dishes.
SeafoodSource: When you aren’t working, how do you spend your free time?
Walker: I love being outside and can often be found hunting or fishing. Family is also very important to me and now that my wife and I are grandparents, spending time my two grandchildren is always rewarding.
SeafoodSource: What’s your favorite way to prepare/eat catfish?
Walker: As a true Mississippian, my personal favorite way is southern fried in cornmeal with hushpuppies and coleslaw on the side, but catfish is such a versatile fish that it can be used in a wide variety of recipes. Grilled catfish tacos and pan-fried catfish cakes are also some of my favorites.