Predator management, use of wool pads for oil absorbtion in the Gulf of Mexico, scrapie eradication and American Lamb Board promotions, as well as the new sheep center, were just a few of the many topics updated by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on May 7. As part of the American Sheep Industry Association's (ASI) spring trip to Washington, D.C., nearly 60 producers from 25 states gathered at the department to review key USDA programs involving the American sheep industry.
USDA offered an excellent line-up of speakers with firsthand knowledge of the sheep-related issues," commented Glen Fisher, ASI president. "Their in-depth understanding of the industry provided for an environment of significant interaction and sharing of information. As an industry, we appreciate all of the work they do on behalf of sheep producers in the United States."
Edward Avalos, under secretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Services, agreed with the sheep industry that the continuation of mandatory price reporting is important for agriculture. The price reporting regulation expires on Sept. 30, 2010, if it is not reinstated prior to that time.
The details of the new sheep center are under consideration. Avalos passed on to meeting attendees that USDA believes a grant-only program for the center is doable. The particulars of the program have been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval and, provided the agency is able to publish an interim final rule for the implementation of the new sheep center, Avalos expects to be able to request nominations for the new board by October 2010 and be able to announce appointments before the end of the year. If a proposed rule is required, the board of directors could be seated in the first quarter of 2011.
Avalos also commented that he "very much supports" the efforts of and the funding for Wildlife Services (WS) as well as the importance production agriculture plays in rural America. With significant emphasis being directed toward farmers markets and buying local, Avalos agreed that it is important to keep production agriculture in the mix for federal programs and assistance.
ASI leaders thanked the under secretary for the department's commitment of funds for the purchase of lamb meat for food banks in order to ensure against price declines for sheep producers.
Approximately 98 percent of all sheep being moved throughout the United States are traceable, according to John Clifford, DVM, deputy administrator for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Veterinary Services. For the sheep industry, Clifford does not see any changes in regard to animal identification but encouraged producers to stay engaged with their states as they develop protocols for animal traceability.
Clifford also told the group that there were currently 44-percent fewer newly identified infected and source flocks as compared to 2009. At this current rate of eradication, the United States will have near zero cases of scrapie by 2017 when it can subsequently ask to be recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health as a scrapie-free country.
A proposed rule to revise 9 CFR Parts 54 and 79 of the scrapie rule will be published in the second half of 2010. The purpose of this rule is to address gaps in sheep traceability, increase the flexibility of how investigations of scrapie cases are conducted, make the requirements for goats similar to those currently in place for sheep, tighten identification requirements in slaughter channels and require states to meet reasonable surveillance goals to remain a consistent state, to name a few criteria.
USDA continues to implement new programs that were authorized in the Farm Bill, commented Brandon Willis, deputy administrator for Farm Programs with the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Willis responded to questions from producers on a wide variety of FSA programs including the provision for livestock loss due to wolf kills currently covered under the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.
Bill Clay, deputy administrator for USDA's APHIS WS, relayed that the new toxicant under development containing theobromine and caffeine should be at an 80 percent efficacy rate before WS can submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for licensing, which it hopes to do in September 2010. Beyond that, it will take an additional 12 to 18 months for the product to be registered. He added that the program is planning to do loss surveys of sheep to predators on a seven-year rotation due to budget issues. Since a 20-year history of loss reports is available, a good trend line is now established.
Edward Knipling, Ph.D., administrator for USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and Steve Kappes, Ph.D., deputy administrator for ARS's Animal Production and Protection, discussed the priorities for ARS and National Institute of Food and Agriculture sheep research that were recently developed through the stakeholder review process. Knipling also acknowledged the importance and productivity of several ARS laboratories that are conducting sheep research including the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. The station was one of the hot topics at the sheep meeting with numerous producers remarking on the importance of the sheep research done under range conditions for rangeland operations. Additionally, Kappes discussed the decision process involving the U.S. Forest Service (FS) grazing on the station.
ARS is working towards the development of an effective vaccine for bighorn sheep that would treat the respiratory diseases inflicting the bighorn sheep population. Finding a solution that would allow for the co-mingling of bighorn sheep and domestic sheep would hopefully assist in rebuilding the bighorn sheep populations and help resolve public land-use conflicts.
ARS is a part of the international panel that is working to create DNA markers for sheep. There is an explosion of tools and resources for genomics research that could have a direct application for improving sheep production whether it be in the area of wool quality, loin size or parasite resistance.
President Obama announced the national export initiative where exports would double in the next five years. Darci Vetter, deputy undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Ag Services, explained that one-third of all agriculture income is currently derived from trade, and in the next five years, this initiative would increase this percentage.
The United States has no significant tariffs on lamb and wool, making it a target market for lamb product from around the world. There is a long history of lamb import surges into the United States from other lamb producing countries, and, because of this, sheep producers let Vetter know that a mechanism to address surges should be incorporated in future trade agreements. Industry comments relayed that under the recent Australian agreement, their government proclaimed victory in negotiations on lamb and masked the fact that there were no barriers to lamb trade into America in the first place. She also commented that it will be important to be more creative in designing tools and programs that will make future trade agreements productive for the United States.
Anne Zimmermann, director of the FS Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air and Rare Plants Division, handles a broad area of issues, but as it relates to the sheep industry on FS land, her focus is on the conflicts between domestic and bighorn sheep.
Zimmerman gave an update to the new planning rule for the FS management plan. According to the FS Web site, "The National Forest Management Act (NFMA), an amendment of the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA), establishes standards for how the FS manages the national forests, requires the development of land management plans for national forests and grasslands and directs the FS to develop regular reports on the status and trends of the nation's renewable resources on all forest and rangelands."
After the written public comment period ended earlier this year, a series of roundtables were held throughout the West to solicit public comments and suggestions in an open setting. Zimmerman expects that a draft will be assembled by the end of the summer.
An update on the pending Payette Forest's decision regarding the comingling of domestic and bighorn sheep was also provided. Zimmerman could not comment directly from the decision document as it is pending a release from the FS Payette Forest Office, but she was able to provide an update on the incorporation of new science and research, as well as input from stakeholders.
Continuing the discussion on domestic and bighorn sheep policy, Zimmerman reiterated the importance of sheep grazers to the FS' "Open Space" strategy. Out of the 63 million acres of bighorn sheep habitat throughout the West, 23 million acres fall under the jurisdiction of the FS. Of the 23 million acres, only 1 million acres has contiguous or overlapping areas with domestic sheep allotments. Members from the Idaho Wool Growers Association suggested that the FS consider a policy of developing alternative allotments that are currently vacated or unused. These allotments could be used to serve as substitute allotments for land users that experience species conflicts or range issues that arise because of issues such as drought and/or fire. Zimmerman said she would follow up with the range department of FS.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey, oversees the agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), which administers America's public lands, totaling approximately 253 million acres or one-eighth of the landmass of the country.
ASI Secretary Treasurer Clint Krebs (Ore.) led the discussion with Abbey regarding several issues of concern to the sheep producers across the western 12 states. Among these concerns are the conflicts between domestic and bighorn sheep on BLM's grazing allotments. Krebs spoke of ASI's Bighorn Sheep Working Group and its collaborative USDA research funding efforts that strongly support state and national sheep industry groups as well as state and tribal entities.
Livestock protection dogs were also mentioned. Bryce Reece, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, gave Abbey a briefing on the work of ASI's Livestock Protection Dog Working Group and its efforts to develop best management practices and accountability standards among producers. Abbey mentioned his pleasure of the group's efforts and recommended the working group continue an open dialogue with the range staff of BLM.
Wild horses and burros across the West was another topic of discussion. Abbey gave an update of the population control efforts of the National Wild Horse and Burro Program, including efforts regarding fertility control of mares in the population. BLM and the producers agreed that there is a great need to educate the public on this issue and to discuss science and dispel mistruths and exaggerations.
Recent DOI documents that surfaced regarding national monument designations were also addressed. The documents detailed plans to designate as many as 14 new national monuments across 13 million acres throughout the West. If designated, lands would not be available for multiple use purposes, thus possibly causing the elimination of grazing on the designated areas. Abbey reiterated the position of Interior Secretary Salazar that this was an internal document among department staff and not a decision document of the secretary.
Krebs concluded the USDA meeting by relating the importance of programs that assist sheep production by stating that every 1,000 sheep create 18 American jobs.