The U.S. sheep industry is realizing an encouraging time; lamb prices are at an all-time high and this spring, the wool market is setting historical records as are wool pelt prices along with a strong cull ewe market. However, from the farm gate through to the lamb and wool processing level, there is a shared concern about meeting the demand for lamb and wool production in the United States.
Lamb processors, from the commercial market channel to the rapidly growing nontraditional markets, are clamoring for a greater supply of lamb. In 2011, two major announcements to carry American lamb in our nation's grocery stores occurred. Kroger, one of the nation's largest grocery store chains, launched an American lamb branded campaign and Super Wal-Mart made a commitment to exclusively carry American lamb in its stores. Also, the nontraditional market channels, which include on-farm sales, farmers markets and small processors serving ethnic communities, have grown exponentially over the years. In fact, one-third of the U.S. lamb crop has moved outside the traditional industry infrastructure to feed this nontraditional lamb market. As an industry, we must supply the traditional market channel to keep American lamb in the nation's largest grocery store chains and restaurants all while meeting the emerging demand for American lamb in the nontraditional markets.
This robust demand for product is also being experienced in the wool market. The U.S. military, the largest domestic consumer of U.S. wool, is excited for the opportunity to clothe our troops in high-performance, washable wool products. The equipment that makes washable wool top has been installed in the United States and is being used for a variety of domestically produced wool products that are already reaching the military and commercial markets.
A strategy to strengthen the lamb and wool industry's infrastructure by increasing the number of sheep in production is vital for the long-term sustainability of the industry. This is why the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is calling on sheep producers, both large and small, from east to west, to help accomplish the goal of growing our flock. ASI has come up with a formula to address these shortages within just a few years; it's called Let's Grow with twoPLUS. With three goals in mind, the primary objective of this campaign is to encourage current producers to expand their sheep numbers by 2014. This initiative will result in 315,000 more lambs and 2 million more pounds of wool for the industry to market.
The three goals are encourage producers to increase the size of their operation by two ewes per operation or by two ewes per 100 by 2014; encourage sheep producers to increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year; and encourage producers to increase the harvested lamb crop by 2 percent - from 108 percent to 110 percent.
ASI has developed a website, www.growourflock.org, and materials to help spread the word of the initiative. The site includes a video explaining the twoPLUS program, Let's Grow partners who are participating in the campaign, resources for producers, an open forum for producers to communicate with one another and a section for media promotion.