May 6, 2011
As part of the American Sheep Industry Association's (ASI) spring trip to Washington, D.C., nearly 50 producers from 21 states gathered at the department to review key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs involving the American sheep industry.
"USDA offered an excellent line-up of speakers who have firsthand knowledge of the sheep-related issues," commented Margaret Soulen Hinson, 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."
Anne MacMillan, senior advisor to Secretary Tom Vilsack, stopped in to take back to the secretary the main issues of the sheep industry.
"The secretary is an advocate for third-option thinking," said McMillan. "He believes there are multiple solutions to an issue and encourages broad thinking to solve any problem."
The continuation of the livestock protection program and the urgency of a resolution to the bighorn sheep controversy were two topics producers encouraged McMillan to carry back to the secretary. Both issues have an effect on the industry as a whole and need immediate attention.
Brandon Willis, deputy administrator of USDA's Farm Service Agency, opened the session with a review of the livestock indemnity program, which helps producers in death loss occurs due to adverse weather. The program expires this year, however, if included in the upcoming Farm Bill, it could be written to better address services for range operators. He is scheduled to join Secretary Vilsack's mediator staff next week as a senior policy advisor to the secretary on the 2012 Farm Bill.
"MacMillan and Willis, both whom I have known from their days on Capitol Hill, are able and knowledgeable advisors to the secretary who believe in the future of agriculture and rural America," commented Fran Boyd, ASI's senior Washington representative. "We are lucky to have them working for Secretary Vilsack as both will be important advisors to him on the 2012 Farm Bill."
"Sheep need to be protected," these were the words from Gregory Parham, DVM, administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). "The work done by the Wildlife Services Agency (WS) is important; however, the curtain is going to fall on projects that are funded by earmark dollars, not because WS chooses to discontinue these programs but because Congress has made that choice for us."
APHIS will be releasing a proposed rule on scrapie that will update procedures, modify policy, set reasonable state compliance regulations and address import rules. According to Parham, we are planning to fund the scrapie eradication program at near the 2010 level this year and next.
The industry stressed apprehension to sheep being lumping into a disease management group with horses, cervids and goats. There is concern that scrapie funding will be diluted and used for other species programs within the new management group rather than for scrapie work.
Ann Wright, deputy undersecretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs, advised attendees that it would behoove the industry to fully implement the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (NSIIC) programs allowed for in the 2008 Farm Bill prior to the 2012 Farm Bill. When discussions begin on the 2012 Farm Bill, committee members will be focused on measurable results as they decide future program funding in this tight budget.
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be putting out a new online dashboard with lamb market news shortly. According to Warren Preston, associate deputy administrator with AMS, this dashboard will allow producers to view market reports in a new and more user-friendly way. With the roll out of the lamb and swine dashboards, all species covered under the mandatory price reporting rule will have the same access to markets.
Preston indicated that AMS recently completed its mandatory management review of American Lamb Board (ALB) activities and spending. The review is done to insure that producer dollars are being spent as directed and to document internal controls. The next ALB review will be held in 2013.
Finally, Preston discussed the continuing work being done on the lamb instrument grading project with the prediction standards for tenderness, grade and quality moving forward.
Last week, slaughter numbers were not available and this is a point of concern for the industry. Without these numbers, the model that provides rates for the Livestock Risk Protection-Lamb insurance cannot be run and the industry is without this price protection product. USDA is well aware of the absence of slaughter reporting.
The message brought forward by Jay Jensen, deputy undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment, and Jim Pena, associate deputy chief for the National Forest System (FS), was that the over-arching philosophy of the FS is the restoration and resilience of its lands. The activities that are carried out on FS lands, like sheep grazing, are not always understood and, therefore, it is the responsibility of the FS and the sheep industry to educate the public about the value of these activities.
"The public should understand that sheep grazing on public lands is one of the main reasons these lands are in such great shape and are so desirable for mixed uses," stated Bob Benson, chair of ASI Legislative Action Council. "Sheep grazing reduces the risk of fire and promotes foliage growth."
The FS has issued a planning rule that is out for comment. The purpose of the rule is to update the 1982 rule that is currently being followed by the FS. According to Jensen and Pena, the new rule works to manage habitat, connect people to FS land and to better provide for land management and ecosystem protection.
Brian Grunenfelder, acting deputy administrator for the Office of Agreements and Scientific Affairs with USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service, told producers that because of the strong Australian dollar, the drought in that country and a focus on other markets, the performance of Australian exports to the United States has declined. Exports from New Zealand have also decreased for some of the same reasons. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was discussed since it would include both countries.
Concluding the line-up of speakers was Bill Clay, deputy administrator for WS. His main message to producers was that additional money will need to be found to keep WS functioning at its current level; however, that funding will need to be non-federal funding. There were 100 WS employees tied to the congressional earmarks that funded WS predator management projects and, as of Oct. 1, 2010, that funding is no longer available. The earmarks allotted for $3 million of predator management work, which included livestock protection programs in nine states.
"Not only is this the time of year when producers have new lambs on the ground that are especially vulnerable to predation; it is incredibly poor policy to have wolves entirely under management of government and no funds to control problems that arise with them," indicated Peter Orwick, ASI executive director.
"The lack of funding for predatory management programs, in particular livestock protection, is very concerning for the sheep industry," commented Benson. "Last week, the industry launched its twoPLUS campaign to strengthen the lamb and wool industry's infrastructure by increasing the number of sheep in production. An important aspect of being able to accomplish this expansion is predator control and the role of WS. It is vital that WS is able to retain its trained employees in these critical positions to help with livestock protection."
Other WS projects include collaboration with Australia on a new toxicant for feral hog control that utilizes lethal doses of sodium nitrate and the possible introduction of new guardian animals from Europe for use against the increasing wolf population.
"The speakers were very open to hearing feedback from attendees today," concluded Soulen Hinson. "It is through an environment of open communication and mutual respect that we will be able to work through the issues facing the sheep industry today."