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Denver, Colo. -- The year began with stronger markets for lamb and wool which helped provide a positive attitude to industry participants at the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)/National Lamb Feeders Association Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 20-23, 2010. Cull-ewe prices are the highest seen in years, wool markets are expected to be active, pelt prices are up this winter and lamb meat export numbers are strikingly higher indicating additional interest being shown around the world for U.S. lamb products.
"Attendance again exceeded that of the previous year, as has been the case for the last eight years," comments Glen Fisher (Texas), ASI president. "We were fortunate to have in attendance 55 of the 59 voting directors on the board of directors (BOD). The sheep industry across the country was very well represented as the industry approved policy for the coming year."
In an effort to quantify the non-traditional lamb market in the United States, it became apparent that sheep inventory numbers may be larger than previously reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). In 2008, as many as 1.2 million head of sheep were channeled outside the traditional pipeline and into ethnic markets, specialty and regional markets or were sold direct to consumers off the farm. Therefore, a portion of American lambs do not show up in the federally inspected slaughter numbers and it is also likely that many ewe flocks are not accounted for in national reports. The actual number of lambs processed in this country could be as high as 3.5 million.
Fisher summed up the report by saying, "We have more sheep in the United States than estimated in recent years. Knowing more about how many lambs are being sold in the non-traditional market and something about where they are going provides opportunities to the trade and good information to the American Lamb Board as they design promotion and merchandizing programs. It is interesting information also for primary lamb, wool and pelt companies as they adjust their plans to this increasing trend of the U.S. sheep industry."
UDSA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Edward Avalos offered uplifting comments from the department regarding support of the agencies for the sheep industry, specifically mentioning the predator control and scrapie eradication programs.
Avalos commented, "A huge percentage of lambs born each year are killed by predators and such a high level of depredation is unacceptable."
The under secretary complimented the industry for its 2009 approval of the lamb checkoff referendum and voiced his support for renewing mandatory price reporting for livestock which is due to expire this year. He also mentioned the implementation of the new sheep center and relayed his thought that USDA's push to revitalize local food production is a fit for the sheep industry.
Chris Wilcox, wool and livestock economist from Australia, stressed that wool prices are inventory driven but that demand is having an effect as well. Some of the drivers of falling wool production include climatic conditions, lower wool-income returns compared with other enterprises, a shift to sheep for meat production, predators and pessimism about wool. Wilcox was encouraging, however, for the 2010 wool market. He believes there will be a moderate recovery in key economies even though high unemployment levels will still be an issue. He expects that there will be better consumer demand for natural fibers in 2010 and that the tight supply of apparel wool - with little prospect to increase the supply - will have an effect.
A 2010 budget amendment approved by the BOD will facilitate one of the most significant advancements in wool product development in the United States in years. ASI investigated introducing equipment in the United States to manufacture washable/shrink proof wool products and may have the opportunity to make this happen this year. Peter Orwick, ASI executive director, relayed that the Wool Council found the equipment, the textile industry supported the investment and the company agreed to facilitate this process being operational in 2010.
Livestock protection dogs have long been used to protect sheep from predation. With increasing growth and development in rural areas and added recreational use of federal lands, conflict between these animals and non-agricultural residents can be more frequent. ASI's Livestock Protection Dog (LPD) working group presented a set of suggested management guidelines to help producers avoid conflicts due to protection dogs. Core areas of the program include the legal aspects of LPD ownership, health management, LPD training and management, herder education, agency cooperation and public relations. The ASI BOD authorized the working group to continue its work in 2010 and allocated funds to develop educational materials for producers and the public. Group member, Bonnie Brown (Colo.), supported the plan to post the proposed management guidelines on www.sheepusa.org this winter to extract additional comments from producers.
"With Vision, There is Hope" was the message brought to participants by Bruce Vincent, a third-generation logger from Montana, who spoke about the conflicts arising between production agriculture and conservation groups. A new movement has to save the business and culture of rural America. There's a way to save the last best places but we're going to have to save the last best people to do it. Vincent said it is the people who work with and manage the land -- loggers, miners, agricultural producers -- who know how to preserve that land. But the message put forth by environmental activists today is that harvesting resources -- by loggers, miners and agricultural producers -- is damaging that land. The new environmental movements must be lead by rural people.
Brandon Willis, USDA Farm Service Agency deputy administrator, communicated the details of the new disaster assistance program which compensates livestock producers for losses related to adverse weather. Millions of dollars in payments were made to sheep producers from Texas to North Dakota due to blizzards and spring storms that killed sheep in 2008 and 2009. ASI strongly supported the creation of these programs in the last Farm Bill and worked throughout 2009 to insure that the implementation fit sheep producers. Producers have funds to restock sheep numbers due to this timely and much needed program.
The BOD directed ASI to seek additional section 32 funds for a USDA lamb meat purchase program to further strengthen lamb prices at the farm and ranch gate, re-authorize Mandatory Price Reporting for Livestock and among others, approved policies on climate change and the Equal Access to Justice Act.
The BOD re-elected the current officer team to lead the organization for the next year - Glen Fisher (Texas), president; Margaret Soulen Hinson (Idaho), vice-president; and Clint Krebs (Ore.), secretary/treasurer. Newly elected to the executive board were Larry Pilster (Mont.) representing Region VII and Mike Lippert (Minn.) representing the lamb feeders.
ASI is a national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of the more than 82,000 sheep producers.