Rising tra fish prices a cause for concern

Tra fish prices have hit a new high since 2019, but insiders are concerned that high prices do not bode well for farmers.

Tran Van Hung, general director of Hung Ca Company Limited, said that it had been the case for many years that farmers boosted production too much when they saw prices rising. Consequently, prices normally slumped heavily after reaching record highs.

The fish price peaked in 2018 and led to a rush on production expansion. About one year later, the price began to drop sharply in price due to overproduction, from VND33,000 (US$1.44) to VND19,000 per kilo, causing losses to farmers.

The general director believes that some firms were probably manipulating prices to tempt farmers to produce more, thereby benefiting from the ensuing oversupply.

“Firms benefit from falling prices since they purchase using deferred payments,” he explained.

Nguyen Ngoc Hai, a farmer in Can Tho city, estimated that only around 10% of farmers could turn the rising prices to their advantage. The rest have to wait for their fish to mature.

Unfortunately, market prices will probably fall when the fish reach a suitable size for sale, placing these farmers at a disadvantage.

“VND30,000 per kilo is not high enough to be worth the effort, but I’m concerned that the prices might fall soon,” he said.

Another farmer Tuan in Dong Thap province shares the concern. He said he would sell about 1,000 tonnes of the fish to China at VND30,000 per kilo. With farming costs of VND25,000 per kilo, the batch is expected to earn VND5 billion, enough to offset his previous three-year losses.

However, the farmer is worried that fish feed prices have risen by 40%, to VND14,000 per kilo. Fingerlings have doubled in price to VND60,000 per kilo.

That means he is spending VND27,000 on every kilo of tra fish harvested next season.

“If tra fish prices drop next season due to overproduction, farmers will probably have to sell their fish at a loss," he said.

Trung Tin, another farmer in Dong Thap, said that mounting fish feed and fingerlings prices usually go hand in hand with rising prices.

He estimates that farming costs will rise to over VND25,000 per kilo next season. That means all farmers’ efforts will be wasted if the fish prices go back to VND22,000-VND24,000.

Le Chi Binh, vice president of An Giang province’s Pangasius Farming and Processing Association, urged farmers not to expand farming areas amid rising prices because the prices were expected to level off in July.

He also said that farmers who increase output regardless would become unprofitable due to abundant supply.

To Thi Tuong Lan, deputy general secretary of Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, reported growth in Vietnamese tra fish export in Q1.

She said that tra fish prices in the US market had recently peaked at US$3.95 per kilo and were unlikely to grow any higher. The same is also true for the Chinese market.

Accordingly, she believes farmers and firms should align production with demand to prevent overproduction from reoccurring.

She suggested the production target for 2022 equals that of 2021, at around 1.6 million tonnes.

Phung Duc Tien, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, urged localities to keep farming areas in line with production plan and to improve the quality of fingerlings and fish feed, thereby ensuring stable output and export.

He also called for close cooperation between farms and firms through supply contracts so the latter could monitor production more closely. 

In 2021, Vietnam produced 1.52 million tonnes and exported US$1.62 billion of tra fish. 

The production target was set at 1.6-1.7 million tonnes and export revenues at over US$1.6 billion this year.

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