April 11, 2008
April 11, 2008 - This morning, Burdell Johnson (N.D.), president of the American Sheep Industry Association, had the opportunity to talk via phone with Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer about some of the priorities of the U.S. sheep industry. Johnson covered a number of topics including the regionalization of trade with Argentina, the industry's request of a section 32 lamb roast purchase program and the changes proposed to the H-2A worker regulations.
An analysis performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposing regional trade with Argentina included inaccurate assessments of the U.S. sheep industry. APHIS recognized in its documentation that the industry likely to be most affected by this proposed rule would be the U.S. sheep industry. Sheep production is the primary livestock production system in the Patagonia region of Argentina with 60 percent of Argentina's flock located here. In 2003, the region had 7.49 million sheep, 265,960 head of cattle, 12,731 pigs and 141,614 goats. The government of Argentina forecasted that it would export an average of 13.2 million pounds of sheep meat to the United States.
APHIS indicated that the impact of sheep meat imports from Argentina would only cause the U.S. sheep market price to decline by a few percent, and that estimate would be lessened because the agency claimed U.S. producers raise sheep primarily for wool. The analysis is claiming that lamb production is a byproduct of wool production.
With the lamb market bringing in over $400 million in annual sales as compared to $40 million in wool sales, it is easy to see the flaw in this analysis. ASI has stated before, and continues to maintain, that it has no confidence in the agency's analysis.
"I stressed to Schafer the importance of completing another economic impact analysis to correct the errors in the assumptions used when they proposed the rule," commented Johnson. "This rule needs to be re-opened after addressing these important concerns."
Johnson also reiterated the request by the industry for the approval of a section 32 lamb roast purchase program. Record high feed and fuel prices are having a dramatic impact on the feeder lamb market. Authorization of up to $5 million in section 32 funds through the end of fiscal year 2009 would provide our industry with more confidence, which is needed for a good market. It is critical that purchases are made before more product backs up in the system and goes into cold storage, further depressing the lamb market.
"I feel that the Argentina issue and the lamb roast purchase program are current issues at the forefront of keeping our industry healthy," stated Johnson. "I feel that Schafer listened to and understood the industry's concerns regarding these topics."
In conclusion, Johnson explained the negative impact the changes to the H-2A program will have on the sheep industry. The unique need for labor to care for and protect livestock means that the special procedures provided to sheepherders are very important to the effective use of the H-2A program in our industry.
"I was very impressed with the knowledge and background the secretary displayed on the issues we discussed and with his ability to carry on a meaningful conversation on these topics," concluded Johnson.