The best lamb, wool and pelt markets in a generation of producers fueled the productive meetings during the 2012 American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)/National Lamb Feeders Association (NLFA) Convention held in Scottsdale, Ariz., Jan. 25-28. The meetings, held under the "Grow Our Flock" banner, brought together more than 400 sheep farmers, ranchers, lamb feeders, processors, mills and wool warehouseman from 42 states.
"The great attitude of our industry is very evident," stated Margaret Soulen Hinson (Idaho), ASI president. "Every segment and organization affiliated with the sheep business is located here under one roof providing for great networking opportunities. An understanding of each sector's issues from gate to plate and from farm to fabric is promoted with this industry-wide convention."
While in Scottsdale, the annual Sheep Inventory Report produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) was released showing a 2-percent decline from 2010 numbers due to the devastating and game-changing drought in the largest sheep-producing state in the nation, Texas. Yet, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota claimed double-digit growth. In spite of the record displacement of sheep from Texas due to lack of feed and water, the breeding animals went to herds elsewhere rather than to slaughter. The industry nearly matched the ewe lamb replacement level of 2010 demonstrating the record demand for breeding sheep.
"The really great story to come out of the 100-year drought in Texas is that producers across the country worked with one another to help retain the Texas genetics by purchasing or offering to lease pastures or crop share breeding animals for a year," stated Clint Krebs (Ore.), ASI vice president. "Nor was it lost on convention attendees that the NASS report, slated for elimination by USDA, was published due to industry efforts during Congressional appropriations at year's end."
One of the more obvious successes emphasized during the three-day meeting was the interest and commitment of the American wool-sock industry to buy American wool, which is being credited to the buy American movement and to the reintroduction of the superwash process into the United States through ASI programs. Production on the shrink-resistant treatment equipment line began in 2011 and alters the fiber in wool products, allowing them to be washed and dried without shrinking. This is the most reliable, shrink-resistant treatment for wool available on the market. Additional commercial textile and knitting firms in the United States have purchased U.S. top and wool because they can buy domestic wool and have the entire process completed in America. It also allows products to be sold to the Department of Defense as all-American made with shorter lead times in getting precuts, reduced freight costs and an opportunity to buy smaller quantities.
As Robert Chesebro, president of Wigwam Mills Inc., put it, "Before the superwash process was re-introduced into the United States last year, American wool top had to be shipped to China (7,227 miles) to be treated, then to England (5,070 miles) and finally to South Carolina (4,094) before it could be manufactured into socks."
"Superwash has opened new markets and created more demand for American wool," said Diego Paullier, Chargeurs Wool USA commercial manager, explaining that some textile manufacturers want to work with American wool and like to have everything done in the United States.
Socks are also a component of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant where the industry is working with the U.S. Army to develop domestically produced cold weather base-layer garments from washable wool that is fire resistant. The board of directors saw samples of the U.S. sheep industry patented 100-percent American wool socks being developed by ASI and Natick to serve our military and to be used in combat clothing.
As stated in a Natick press release, "The decision to take a second look at wool as a high-performance fiber was due to improvised explosive device, or IED, issues in Iraq and Afghanistan."
A successful wool program could provide millions of dollars in new revenue and outlets for sheep producers across the country and help ensure the United States maintains a domestic wool processing industry.
The recent omnibus spending package passed by Congress included ASI-supported language prohibiting the federal land management agencies from reducing domestic sheep grazing on federal lands because of conflicts with bighorn sheep. This legislation gives a one-year moratorium for the industry and scientists to research promising vaccines and other science-based mitigation measures to address disease concerns. To this end, the Executive Board agreed to commit the first $50,000 received through the new ASI Bighorn Fund to resolve the wild sheep conflict to implement a new research project on the topic. The industry is strongly encouraged to consider donations to the ASI fund to achieve the target of $100,000 this year.
At the request of the American Sheep and Goat Center (ASGC), ASI favorably responded to a merger proposal that retains the authorities and assets of the center under ASI for the benefit of the sheep industry. It was unanimously approved by the ASI Board of Directors that ASGC would merge into ASI allowing the sheep industry to continue the partnership with the National Livestock Producers Association's Sheep Loan Fund Committee. The center was fully invested in an insurance company to support Livestock Risk Program for Lamb and that will continue under the for-profit subsidiary of ASI.
The inaugural meeting of the Emerging Entrepreneurs Committee was hailed a success. The program, designed to bring relevance to the day-to-day operations of sheep producers between the ages of 25 and 40, touted attendees from 11 states with many of them being first-time attendees to this annual meeting. Through interactive presentations, issues such as "money matters," the impact of the animal rights movement on livestock producers, identifying new markets, sheep and land usage and options for other revenue streams were presented and discussed.
"This group is the future leadership of the industry and will have a large impact on the industries direction in years to come. We challenged each person to not only come back next year but to bring someone new with them. It was exciting to be a part of this energetic and motivated group of younger producers," said John Cubiburu, co-chair of this committee. "This activity was also a great fit with the Let's Grow initiative that ASI launched in 2011 to increase wool production by two million pounds with an increase of 300,000 lambs annually to meet growing demand."
The campaign is two-fold -- to attract new producers of sheep and to encourage existing producers to expand. The www.growourflock.org website showcased the campaign support materials for budgets, production management efficiencies and the advantages of sheep production for all interested in the sheep industry. A media campaign focused in six states last fall generated nearly a hundred local, state and regional print, radio and television articles on the sheep industry and was described by sheep industry leaders as the largest media blitz in over a decade.
The new sheep industry mentor program was promoted during the convention highlighting the $75,000 already approved for state sheep producer association work with newer producers. The second year of the program blends more sheep management information to the website, toolkits and catalogues of sheep production education as well as industry promotion to expand lamb and wool numbers.
Remarks by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.) capped the legislative tone of the convention with Farm Bill recommendations of the sheep industry. The senator mentioned the importance of the disaster trust fund with programs such as livestock indemnity and livestock forage being key for risk management when weather wrecks occur. He emphasized his support for the industry and for the reauthorization of the current sheep programs.
New members elected to the ASI Executive Board included Mike Corn (N.M.), representing region 6, and Don Gnos (Ore.), representing the lamb feeders. Re-elected to a second term on the Executive Board was Larry Pilster, representing region 7.
Joining the membership of ASI and NLFA at this year's meeting were the American Lamb Board, American Sheep and Goat Center, National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, National Livestock Producers Association, Western Range Association, Food and Fiber Risk Managers, Sheep Venture Company, ASI Women, American Goat Federation and the contestants for the national Make It With Wool competition.
ASI is a national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of the more than 82,000 sheep producers.