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Denver, Colo. - Historic high lamb prices and wool selling at rates not seen since 1989 framed the national roll-out of a campaign to increase sheep numbers in the United States. This all contributed to the positive attitude of the attendees of the 2011 American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)/National Lamb Feeders Association (NLFA) Convention held in Reno, Nev., Jan. 19-22.
Glen Fisher, ASI president, comments, "Record breaking lamb and high wool prices provided for a very upbeat and positive gathering. It was encouraging to hear from the economists who spoke during the meetings predicting that the industry can expect these markets to continue through 2011."
Joining the membership of ASI and NLFA were the American Lamb Board, American Sheep and Goat Center, American Goat Federation, National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA), Western Range Association, the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (NSIIC), ASI Women and contestants for the national Make It With Wool competition.
To meet the emerging demand for American lamb in the nontraditional markets, as well as supplies for our national lamb and wool processors, the ASI board of directors (BOD) approved a campaign to increase the U.S. sheep inventory. The campaign to be launched in 2011, titled 2+2+2= Rebuild, asks that each producer increase the size of their operation by two ewes per operation or by two ewes per 100 by 2014, increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year and increase the harvested lamb crop rate by 2 percent. This program provides an attainable, challenging, measurable and realistic plan for increasing sheep numbers in the United States and maintains jobs and infrastructure. The program will provide 315,000 more lambs and 2 million pounds of wool for the industry to market.
Mark Cabral, chief executive officer and president of Alamac American Knits based in Lumberton, N.C., made attendees aware that his company is new to the wool business but, that in a very short time, "wool has become a very important product in our company's structure." Alamac spent much of 2007 refining the wool enzyme treatment in an effort to make wool washable. It wasn't until 2009 that the company actually sold $100,000 of wool product. In 2010, Alamac began producing wool garments for the military and specialty companies and sales climbed to $2.6 million, 10 percent of Alamac's total revenue.
Having redefined its business in 2001 to service niche markets and the uniform trade, Alamac's work with wool and the U.S. military was a natural fit. Wool's inherent fire resistance properties make it the natural fiber for producing a high performance base layer, second layer and an outer layer of clothing for the men and women who defend our country. According to Cabral, the next homerun for the wool industry will be the use of wool products coming from the superwash line that is being assembled and commissioned at Chargeurs Wool (USA) Inc. in Jamestown, S.C. The superwash line will alter the fiber in wool products, allowing them to be washed and dried without shrinking and will meet "Total Easy Care" standards for consumers. ASI and the Sheep Venture Company made this process available through the help of an NLPA loan.
According to Chris Wilcox, a wool and livestock economist from Australia, the demand for wool will continue through 2011 and well into 2012 keeping prices high. 2010 brought with it an increased demand for lamb from countries like China and the Middle East. Low sheep numbers and wool production were experienced worldwide resulting in historically high prices for both products. Wool has become very competitive with cotton and the prospect for 2011 shows that the demand for wool clothing will continue to increase due to rising incomes in major developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil and Russia, as well as a rise in population growth.
Gary Williams, Ph.D., Texas A&M, reported to the BOD on research completed to support targeting lamb promotions to ethnic consumers, comparing lamb consumption behavior and preferences. The results, which sorted the ethnic market into two categories based on quality and/or price preferences, offer a tremendous opportunity to promote American lamb to the ethnic population of this country. Freshness, cleanness, smell, flavor, animal treatment and trust are the primary targets for quality-driven ethnic markets.
The ASI Bighorn Taskforce brought together representatives of state fish and game and agriculture departments from many of the western states as well as staff from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, researchers, state wildlife veterinarians, sheep producers and bighorn sheep advocates to participate in a day-long discussion to openly focus on ideas and solutions to sustain healthy bighorn populations while at the same time keeping the domestic sheep industry strong. Participants agreed to quantify and validate separation strategies, to convene a small group of researchers to evaluate the existing data and to identify gaps in the data and to continue the open dialogue.
New policies passed by the BOD included calling on the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Congress to actively pursue returning productive and viable grazing allotments to domestic sheep producers; supporting a comprehensive program including fertility control, sex ratios and other humane means for wild horse and burro herd reduction; oppose any regulation that would prohibit the sale of horses for humane slaughter; and directed leadership to implement activities to affect the protection of the U.S. sheep industry against attacks from anti-farm and agriculture groups and to educate consumers about the responsible husbandry practices used in the industry.
The inaugural meeting of the new NSIIC was a significant event since ASI secured the authorization of the center in the 2008 Farm Bill with start-up funds of $1 million. The center is charged with advancing activities that build the capacity of the U.S. sheep industry and adopting flexible and innovative approaches to solving the long-term needs of the industry. Glen Fisher (Texas) was elected chair of the new center with Clark Willis (Utah) serving as vice chair and Linda Campbell (Va.) serving as secretary/treasurer.
The BOD elected a new slate of officers to lead the organization for the next two years -- Margaret Soulen Hinson (Idaho), president; Clint Krebs (Ore.), vice president; and Burton Pfliger (N.D.) secretary/treasurer. Elected to the executive board is Marsha Spykerman (Iowa) representing Region IV. Re-elected to the executive board for a second term are Tom Colyer (Mass.), Region I, Will Getz, Ph.D. (Ga.), Region II, Bob Benson (Ind.), Region III, Gary McGehee (Texas), Region V and Art Swannack (Wash.), Region VIII.
ASI is a national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of the more than 82,000 sheep producers.