Each year a great deal of information is dispensed during the sheep industry's annual meeting that I feel may also be valuable to producers who are unable to attend. Therefore, I am pleased to announce the availability of video from the recent 2013 annual meeting. Portions of the joint American Sheep Industry Association's (ASI) Lamb Council and American Lamb Board (ALB) meeting have been placed online as well as footage from the Board of Director's Informational Session. Topics available on video include the lamb market situation and outlook, export opportunities, mandatory price reporting for lamb, ALB's industry assessment study and The Honorable Edward Avalos, undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs, to name a few. To view these videos, go to ASI's home page, www.sheepusa.org.
As a number of industry issues are covered during each convention, I find that a few stand out as critical to the future of the industry. This year, those issues included inventory contraction, labor issues and price reporting.
The week following our convention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service released the Sheep and Lamb Inventory report, which reflects a small decrease in sheep numbers from 2011 to 2012. The report is better than predicted by the economists that we heard from at the convention. The industry expected a decrease in numbers coming off the worst drought the United States has seen in the last 50 years.
I find it interesting that the states with large decreases in sheep numbers include Iowa and Minnesota, each recording a 10 percent year-on-year drop. I realize the Midwest experienced severe drought conditions in 2012, as did most of the country; however, an additional factor was likely the closing of a major lamb processing plant in Iowa in May 2011.
Affecting many of our producers in the West, immigration reform continues to be a hot button for agriculture and is seriously being considered by the 113th Congress. ASI's policy has been and continues to be to codify current H-2A regulatory provisions utilized for sheepherders.
The current sheepherder H-2A program is envied by many other agriculture groups. It is impossible to predict at this time what the final form of immigration reform will look like, but nationally, at least one out of five ewes is under herder protection; therefore, maintaining the program is crucial to our business. During the convention, ASI was joined by the two labor organizations, Western Range Association and Mountain Plains Agriculture Service, who are forming a legislative subcommittee to work with Congress on immigration reform.
Even though it is quite expensive and time consuming with loads of federal paperwork and regulations, the sheepherding program works and the industry has been able to utilize it for 60 plus years. Provisions that are fundamental to the program for both the herders and the industry ought to be protected in legislation. The sheep industry is already working with key senators and believes it is vital that ASI and the sheep labor organizations have strong and consistent communications throughout the year so that the industry speaks with one voice and makes the right decisions for the future of the program. ASI has the legislative network and experience and the labor organizations have the intimate knowledge of the H-2A program and the members that use the provisions every day in compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor.
A tool that benefits producers in their marketing efforts is Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR). During the last year and a half, our industry has experienced the lack of some price reports as a result of company consolidation and a decline of market information collected or published. ASI initiated discussions with USDA at the 2012 convention and then contracted with the Livestock Market Information Center (LMIC) for analysis and recommendations on how to provide accurate and complete price reports. This report was presented to the industry and USDA at the recent convention.
ASI will be working with the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) on a number of recommendations that will assist in the amount of data that will be collected in the future. Some of those recommendations include evaluating volume slaughter or tonnage volume thresholds over time, eliminating certain reports and modifying current reporting requirements to reflect the ongoing structural changes that are occurring in our industry, such as inventory levels, the number of processors, trade volumes and market transactions. We anticipate AMS will publish a proposed regulation once they have thoroughly studied and evaluated LMIC's recommendations.
As the newly elected president of ASI, I look forward to working with producers across the country on these issues and more. The support for our industry is great and was yet again demonstrated with another record-setting attendance at convention.