Located just west of Lonoke, Arkansas, I.F. Anderson Farms, Inc. is the largest baitfish hatchery in the world. This premier aquaculture enterprise was started in 1949 by the late I.F. Anderson and his father, the late W.L. Anderson. Now, the third and fourth generations are in charge, with James Neal Anderson as president/owner, and his son, Jamie Anderson, as vice-president/co-owner.
Jamie Anderson began working in the family business thirty-two years ago, when he was just twelve. He recalled, “Working alongside and learning from my grandfather and father—my true mentors—meant being part of a family heritage that’s always been a great source of pride. And, because we’ve been around for so long, we have a reputation, tradition, and values to uphold, which we take seriously.”
Jamie earned a BA in agriculture business at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville in 1998, where he met his future wife, Elizabeth. Their family histories had intertwined for a number decades in the areas of finance and politics.
Jamie’s day-to-day operational responsibilities at I.F. Anderson Farms, Inc. include employee management, production management, shipping, fish health inspections, customer relations, permitting requirements, and depredation control. Jamie said, “Through a lot of hard work we’ve become the nation’s leading producer of golden shiner minnows. The majority of baitfish purchased at bait shops across our country is raised right here in Lonoke. We employ fifty-two workers (including three part-time interns) and ship to an average of forty-one states per year by truck and by air.”
He added, “We’re number one in the production of baitfish, but Lonoke County is number one in goldfish, hybrid-striped-bass fingerling, grass carp, and species of game fish. We’ve also patented the creation of the black salty that’s very hardy, saltwater-tolerant, and the ultimate live bait for both saltwater and freshwater fishing.”
As to yields, the hatchery facility at Lonoke, Arkansas has grown from an initial 70 water acres to 3334 water acres, with 350 lbs./acre production or over one million pounds per year. It’s capable of producing over one billion fry per season.
Jamie commented, “One of the many problems we’ve had to overcome in the last seventy-one years is the way we market our product. In the early years it basically sold itself, but with added competition came new ways to set up distributorships. Today we can airfreight overnight directly to consumers’ doorsteps. We also service the needs of zoos, aquariums, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and research facilities.”
He added, “Going from transporting bait in galvanized milk canisters to designing and building our own fiberglass tanks with liquid oxygen systems—has been quite an undertaking.”
I.F. Anderson Farms has had to develop and manufacture much of the supporting equipment for use in the handling, hauling, and grading of bait fish over decades.
A growing demand for more fry meant more brood stock, more acreage, more ponds, more water, and more labor. This led to the creation of the hatchery system, which took the aquafarm’s hatching season from 4–5 months to 3–5 weeks and a fry hatching survival rate that increased from 2 percent to 95 percent.”
Jamie noted, “The majority of our products are sold through wholesale distributors, but roughly one-third is also sold through retailers and direct to end users. The bulk is transported in over the road trucks with customized hauling boxes with air systems that primarily consist of liquid oxygen. And approximately 28 percent of our sales are sold and marketed as overnight direct, focusing on internet sales. The fastest growing segment of our business is the airfreight direct delivery portion, which has grown by 50 percent for two years straight.”
He added, “In the late nineties, we sold the fish feed and other industry supplies part of our business, but things have now come full circle. This spring we opened a new retail supply business focused on the hard-to-find fish handling and holding supplies that our retail customers need. It’s become a predominantly web-based segment of the farm’s business.”
On the always challenging topic of adequate, trained labor, Jamie said, “It’s been an increasingly difficult problem in small rural delta towns like ours. My intelligent, resourceful wife of twelve years, Elizabeth, is not only a fantastic mother to our two sons, Slater, 11, and Warner, 9. She has worked diligently to make major strides in our local school system to help solve this problem. She chaired a successful Millage Campaign that will raise $15 million for a business academy in our hometown to train high school students for careers in aquaculture, agriculture, nursing, diesel mechanics, and other fields.”
Local partnerships with Baptist Health, Arkansas State University at Beebe, and Agri Equipment dealers will coordinate support services in the areas of health, teaching, and tools for local students who do not have aspirations or the money for college to be able to graduate high school with a career path in motion.
Elizabeth Anderson is also president of the Lonoke Community Foundation, president of the Youth Home board of directors, and president of the Lonoke Century League. She is deeply involved with activities at First United Methodist Church in Lonoke.
Jamie’s sister, Katie Siever, is an attorney who serves as a vice president of the family business as well as corporate legal counsel. She currently resides in Fayetteville with her two small children, ages five and seven. Jamie’s father, James Neal Anderson, works full time on the farm in partnership with his son. He has also served for decades as a commissioner on the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission and has been instrumental in securing significantly increased line item funding for the Conservation Districts program. Major legislative initiatives accomplished during his commissioner tenure include passage of the Groundwater Protection and Management Act and creation of a state income tax incentive program for water conservation and development.
With such a large and growing aquaculture business, I.F. Anderson Farms has adopted a set of Best Management Practices developed with the help of industry cohorts and the Arkansas State Plant Board and Arkansas Bait and Ornamental Fish Growers Association. The association has a certification program designed to provide high-quality, farm-raised bait and ornamental fish that are free of certain diseases, undesirable plants, and animals, and other contaminates considered harmful to fish or fisheries. In 2019, Jamie was the first recipient of the Mike Clark Aquaculture Farmer Leadership award from the National Aquaculture Association.
Another environmentally friendly practice is the continued reuse of as much farm water as possible by pumping and gravity flowing it from pond to pond before releasing it—a key to conserving ground water. Jamie noted, “We use very fine filters so that we can pump water from one pond with one species of fish to another pond with a different species and not contaminate the second pond. Water depth can hinder the fish farming practice, so we maintain our levees at a level to hold excess rain water during the wet months and use it until it finally evaporates during the dry months.”
On the subject of biosecurity, Jamie commented, “It’s a constant concern of ours and the customers in other states we service. We helped develop nationwide diseases and aquatic nuisance species inspections for transporting bait fish across state lines. We voluntarily have our fish tested by an APHIS–certified vet and transported to an APHIS–certified lab for disease testing that meets and exceeds the requirements of the national and international standards for fish health.” I.F. Anderson Farms is also voluntarily inspected by the Arkansas State Plant Board for any invasive aquatic plants and animals.
In the future, Anderson hopes to continue streamlining and making more efficient the spawning process, to increase production per acre, to continue to grow the new retail supply business through added products and web presence, and to increase internet marketing and sales of the hatchery’s products.
Being a contributing member of the community is also a longstanding tradition for the Anderson family. As he observed, “In rural delta areas like ours, the local town supports us and we support the local town. It’s just the nature of things in this way of life. We’re here for each other.”
Jamie is on the board of trustees of the Arkansas Waterfowl Association and has served as past president, vice president, and treasurer. He noted, “It’s a youth-based outdoors organization that teaches young people how to hunt, fish, trap, and skeet, along with instruction in archery, ATV safety, and boating safety. We sponsor many events throughout the year and a summertime youth camp where boys and girls participate in all these outdoor activities.”
Both Jamie and Elizabeth have been supporters of Open Arms Shelter for foster children in Lonoke since 2001. Jamie has also chaired the Lonoke High School Business Educational Cooperative committee where local business leaders speak at schools and recruit students for internships. He enjoys coaching each of his sons’ baseball teams and donates time and resources to the Lonoke Ball Park. For occasional family getaways, the Andersons like to take a yearly ski trip to Colorado, enjoy some beach time, hunt, fish, skeet shoot, and go cycling together.
Jamie Anderson was nominated Farmer of the Year by Josh Cunningham, agriculture lending officer for AgHeritage Farm Credit Services in Lonoke. Cunningham said, “Jamie Anderson exemplifies what the Farmer of the Year program is all about, carrying on a fourth generation of tremendously successful aquaculture heritage. The family is well respected in the baitfish industry and in the local community, to which they regularly give so much. I couldn’t be more proud to have them represent the state of Arkansas in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest.”
As the Arkansas winner of the Swisher/Sunbelt Expo award, Jamie Anderson will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida. A Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to each state winner and nominator. Syngenta will donate $500 to the state winner’s charity of choice. Anderson is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner by Swisher. Massey Ferguson North America will provide each state winner with a gift package and the overall winner with the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours (whichever comes first). A Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to the overall winner. Syngenta will provide a $500 donation to the charity of choice for the overall winner who will also receive a Hays LTI Smoker/Grill. In addition, the overall winner will receive a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation.
Swisher International, through its Swisher cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 31st consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,204,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous Arkansas winners include Michael Simon of Conway, 2007; Brian Kirksey of Amity, 2008; Orelan Johnson of England, 2009; Bill Haak of Gentry, 2010; Michael Oxner of Searcy, 2011; Heath Long of Tichnor, 2012; Phillip DeSalvo of Center Ridge, 2013; Nathan Reed of Marianna, 2015; David Wildy of Manila, 2016; Mark Morgan of Clarksville, 2017; Luke Alston of Mena, 2018, and Chris Isbell of Humnoke, 2019.