Last Friday, more than a thousand people assembled in Fort Collins, Colo., for a workshop exploring competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry hosted by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Mike Harper, Harper Livestock Co. and president of the Colorado Wool Growers Association, represented the sheep industry for the American Sheep Industry Association on the panel of livestock producers from across the nation. "Colorado is an appropriate setting for this hearing in terms of the sheep industry," stated Harper. "We have two major lamb processing plants within 70 miles and my state is home to the largest concentration of lamb feeding operations in the nation.
"In 2010, the sheep industry has experienced the highest live-lamb and lamb-meat prices in history. I mention this not only to show the strength in prices paid to sheep farmers and ranchers this year but also to show that the lamb market survived the wreck experienced in the American meat complex of late 2008 through 2009 better than any other sector of livestock or poultry. Yet, record high grain and forage prices combined with record high fuel costs makes meeting ends very difficult for my operation," he continued.
While the lamb industry is less concerned than other species with the recently proposed rules of USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration regarding livestock market regulations, Harper asked Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to support plans for increasing sheep numbers to sustain and maintain the industries infrastructure of buyers and processing plants that are vital to its continued success. The industry must grow industry or it risks losing at least one of the lamb processors and this would surely lessen competition.
In addition, Harper brought to the secretary's attention a July ruling by the U.S. Forest Service where four sheep ranching families will be denied grazing rights on the Payette Forest in Idaho as a result of its bighorn sheep management policies. Nearly 12,000 ewes will be displaced resulting in serious flock-size reductions for these producers or even the potential of being forced entirely out of the sheep business. The loss of these sheep impacts the whole industry from feeding operations to the lamb processors.
Harper also asked Vilsack to support livestock protection with funding for Wildlife Services. The single largest cause of death in sheep and lambs is due to predation, mainly coyotes, with over a quarter of a million lambs killed annually by predators. This represents hundreds of thousands of lambs that do not make it to market and that do not return revenue to the ranch family or the rural economy.