April 20, 2007
April 20, 2007 -- Burdell Johnson (N.D.), president of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), delivered testimony to the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday where he conveyed the priorities of sheep producers in this country as they relate to the next Farm Bill. Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa), Ranking Republican Member Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) were joined by committee members to hear from a panel of livestock, poultry and egg producers for the direction of the next Farm Bill.
Johnson's testimony before the committee follows:
"I am proud of the accomplishments the sheep industry has made nationally with flock expansion, a successful industry-funded lamb promotion program and putting American wool into the international market place. The 2002 Farm Bill gets some of the credit for our industry's success, and we strongly support the committee's effort to address the next farm legislation.
"The Wool Loan Deficiency Program, as included for the first time in the 2002 bill, was implemented in a timely manner by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for shorn wool and unshorn pelts. However, it is clear that the base loan rate should be set at $1.20 per pound as supported in the initial research so the program works for all producers as intended. Only one of nine loan categories is utilized at the current base.
"The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, a very successful program of USDA to assist lamb and wool businesses with loans and grants to rebuild infrastructure, should be re-authorized in the Farm bill. $20 million in funding would complete the $50 million authorization of the 1996 legislation.
"Regarding the conservation title of the Farm Bill, our industry supports a priority of prescriptive grazing with sheep for control of noxious weeds and invasive species. In the rangelands of the United States, both of these are serious problems, and we believe prescribed livestock grazing is a very effective tool. Prescribed grazing can be expanded to a revenue option for farmers and ranchers, which in turn strengthens the economies of rural areas of the country.
"We look forward to working with the committee in re-authorization of two programs and consideration of conservation program emphasis on prescriptive sheep grazing for weed and invasive species control. These programs are very helpful to individual producers as well as the entire lamb and wool business and can help us continue re-building the sheep industry.
"Regarding competition issues, we urge implementation of interstate shipment of state inspected meat so producers have access to more marketing opportunities for lamb.
"Mandatory Price Reporting legislation, as approved last fall, helps sheep producers compete. I would add that it has already been six months since approval and we are still waiting for rules to be issued and reporting to be re-established.
"ASI supports Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) of lamb. I would add that, in our view, speeding up the regulations for COOL might be troublesome given the problems of securing rules again for mandatory price reporting.
"An international competition issue we urge committee consideration on is sheepmeat trade reform. ASI believes the federal government must address the European government's sheep subsidies of $2 billion annually as well as the strict tariff quota system they employ against imported lamb meat. We are pleased to share a report of 2006 entitled Sheepmeat Trade Reform--The Global Benefits
, which provides the direction to level the playing field.
"I add my appreciation for the efforts to find disaster assistance for livestock producers, as the 2006 drought conditions actually decreased our sheep inventory despite early projections of continued growth. Operations in New Mexico weaned lamb crops as small as 35% due to dry ewes, stillborn lambs and weak lambs that died. Reduced pasture and water situations were severe from Texas north to my farm in North Dakota. I can attest that the drought continues for most, and when combined with drastically higher fuel and feed costs, many producers are in trouble.
"The sheep industry looks forward to working with you as you build a successful Farm Bill," concluded Johnson.