Sheep Producers and USDA Officials Share Goals
May 9, 2014

Sheep producers from across the country met with officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week to hear the progress of sheep related programs within the department.

According to Jack Shere, DVM, associate deputy administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Veterinary Services, APHIS is committed to eradicating scrapie from the United States. The agency is also considering the proposition of a "negligible scrapie-risk" category to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The United States is still on track to eradicate scrapie by 2017, however, detecting the last cases of scrapie is always the most difficult and costly. Surveillance of goats, in particular, will need to be ramped up to accomplish this goal.

"The negligible risk category opened up many markets for the beef industry and our current thinking is that having such a category for scrapie could also be positive for the sheep industry," concluded Shere. "It will be important, therefore, for the U.S. sheep industry to maintain at least its current level of surveillance."

Mandatory price reporting, which expires in 2015, must be actively reauthorized by the U.S. Congress for its continuation. The Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) has been able to make some lamb-market report changes as requested by industry in anticipation of the reauthorization, Craig Morris, Ph.D., deputy administrator of AMS's Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program, told sheep industry leaders. Additional changes to the mandatory price reporting system for lamb will likely be incorporated in a federal register package this summer.

As authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, $1.5 million has been established for a sheep production and marketing program at ASI's request. A competitive grant program will be announced to select the administrator of these funds. Director appointments for the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center are due to ASI this month for consideration by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Morris reported that the instrument grading project is moving forward. He added that it has been a very useful technology for other industries and that AMS hopes to finalize a voluntary standard for instrument evaluation of lamb carcasses very soon.

Industry made it very clear to AMS officials that livestock reporting is an important service to the industry and should be maintained and improved at all cost.

"20,000 to 30,000 Livestock Indemnity Applications (LIP) were received at Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in the first weeks of the program," reported Brad Karmen, deputy administrator for farm programs. "With the program being a continuation from the 2008 Farm Bill, Secretary of Agriculture directed the FSA offices to roll the program out in a mere 60 days. It is expected that billions of dollars will be paid out through the Farm Bill disaster programs."

One concern of the 2008 LIP program for the sheep industry was that producers had a difficult time qualifying losses on open range lambing. Karmen announced that there is now an open-range policy where producers that are unable to verify losses have options to use five-year lambing average records or ewe inventory to establish beginning lamb crop compared to numbers at docking to establish loss. A standard lambing rate and a discount for non-variable losses were added to the program that ASI is evaluating to determine if the program will now work competitively for range lambing operations.

The impact of adverse weather on a lambing operation was also discussed and producers were assured that FSA now has a policy for state and local offices to follow to determine losses. Early reporting of an adverse weather situation is important to managing the situation correctly.

In conclusion, Karmen reminded growers that the disaster programs are now permanent and will only be discontinued if Congress stops the programs. Under the 2008 legislation, the program funding expired in late 2011, leaving a two year void in disaster coverage.

"Sheep research was dealt with kindly in appropriations this year," said Steven Kappes, Ph.D., deputy administrator Animal Production and Protection with Agricultural Research Service, "from additional funding to an assurance that no research facilities are targeted for closure in 2015."

Sheep studies are continuing across the country ranging from parasite resistance and genomics to blue tongue, easy-care sheep and grazing lands. Diagnostic testing and genome sequencing also continues on bighorn sheep.

Kappes suggested that the industry is dealing with perception when it comes to the conflict between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep. The headlines focus on the negative effects of the bighorn sheep yet little to no exposure is given to the destructive results experienced by the sheep producers who will likely lose their ability to raise sheep as well as lose a way of life.

An inter-government panel of trade officials from USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and the U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) office provided the final comments to attendees. Ron Baumgarten, a director in the office of agricultural affairs, acknowledged that even though bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) does not affect lamb, lamb markets were closed along with the beef markets after the 2003 BSE case in the United States.

Now that the BSE status in the United States has been upgraded to one of negligible risk, exports should be easier. The USTR office has reached out and started the process to again trade lamb with Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan. Currently, China is not willing to accept the negligible risk status of the United States.

Work is being done at a relatively high level to remove of trade restrictions, complete questionnaires and discover the trade requirements of a country. USDA's Catherine Fulton, acting director, FAS, explained the documentation the department has been submitting to foreign markets, particularly on scrapie, since it is often used cited as a trade barrier.

The industry was pleased to hear from the trade representatives that their "general approach on textiles is to follow the yarn-forward rule." Vietnam is asking for a 'single-transformation' and this would allow Vietnam to source textiles from China and export garments and finished goods to the United States duty free, which would have a devastating impact on an already diminished industry.

ASI's president Clint Krebs summed up the department meetings by saying, "We are pleased with the aggressive efforts of long-time partners on issues like scrapie control and market reporting, as well as research and risk management. The joint panel on trade confirmed that our trade officials recognize the need to prioritize American lamb-market access."