March 15, 2004
Mar/Apr 2004 -- Approximately 300 U.S. sheep industry members from around the country convened in Sacramento, Calif., Jan 21-24 for the combined 2004 American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) / National Lamb Feeders Association (NLFA) Convention.
The joint ASI/NLFA convention was the second of its kind. However, two additional national organizations -- the American Lamb Board and National Sheep Industry Improvement Center - met in conjunction with ASI and NLFA this year.
Major topics of discussion by the ASI board of directors included:
- County-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL), with the ASI board of directors continuing their strong support for a mandatory program, but dropping their former support for a prohibition of packer ownership of livestock;
- Animal identification, with support for a national effort, but only with consideration of several key factors including economics and the existing ID program under the Scrapie Eradication program; and
- Mandatory Price Reporting, with support to reauthorize the Mandatory Price Reporting system for lamb, which sunsets in 2004.
Board members and convention attendees also approved efforts by ASI's Strategic Planning Task Force to update or establish a foundation for education, research and information industry programs. The current Sheep Heritage Foundation, which utilizes industry donations for the annual awarding of a scholarship to a graduate student, is essentially depleted of funding. The task force therefore spearheaded the rebirth of Associate Memberships, and is greatly appreciative of all associated industry that joined together to work on common goals and participated with ASI.
In the international arena, Steve Shnitzler, deputy director of dairy, livestock and poultry, U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service, reported that he was particularly pleased to address the board on Friday, January 23, as it was the day that FAS was issuing an invitation for applications for export assistance programs.
"Last year we allocated more than $550,000 to the sheep industry," reported Shnitzler of ASI's efforts in FAS-funded programs such as Market Access Program, Quality Samples Program and Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program. "We're really pleased with the work ASI has done with this funding -- both in maintaining markets and establishing new ones."
Also providing input was a panel of international sheep industry representatives from Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Andrew Burtt, Meat New Zealand regional manager, North America, and Ian Feldtmann, president, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, reported on the severe loss of sheep numbers in New Zealand and Australia and the impact of the weaker U.S. dollar. Randy Eros, president of the Canadian Sheep Federation, reported on the growth of the Canadian sheep industry as well as the pressure it has endured due to the loss of its live lamb export market to the United States in 2003.
Capping off the presentations were those made by representatives of the American Lamb Board, who highlighted programs conducted to date as well as those slated for upcoming months.
USDA Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bill Hawks announced the department's decision to extend the retained ewe-lamb program through fiscal year 2004. The high-priority program is key to industry efforts to continue the positive gains in the U.S. breeding ewe inventory.
"The attitude and optimism in the U.S. sheep industry was very apparent in the large attendance and the positive announcements and decisions that were made at this industry-wide convention," commented ASI President and Ohio sheep producer Guy Flora.