By Judy Malone
June 2005 -- In his first visit with sheep industry leaders since taking office, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns congratulated the nearly 50 meeting attendees on achieving the first positive growth in sheep numbers since 1990 and on a ?hugely successful? passage of the referendum. Having raised sheep himself in high school, he understands that sheep producers have separate and unique issues apart from other livestock owners on topics, such as animal identification.
Johanns told the group during the May 6 meeting,, that he is ?committed not only to grow agriculture, but for it to prosper.?
He encouraged the industry to remain in communication with him and his office, keep him informed of the issues affecting the industry and stressed his ?open door? policy of public service.
As other U.S. Department of Agriculture leaders came to address the group, they too were cognizant of a unified presence. Producers and leaders from the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) were joined by representatives from the National Lamb Feeders Association, National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (NSIIC), the American Lamb Board (ALB) and Western Range Association.
Barry Carpenter, deputy administrator of the Livestock and Seed Program for the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), again congratulated the industry for its over-whelming passage of the Lamb Checkoff Program. Nominations for open American Lamb Board appointments are due to AMS by June 10.
?Passing the program with an 80-percent margin, in both the number of producers voting and the volume of lambs voted, sent a clear message to the department about the value of this program to the lamb industry,? stated Carpenter.
Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR), which is subject to congressional re-authorization by the end of September, was also discussed. Carpenter stated that he did not envision any changes for lamb and understood the importance of the continuation of the program for the industry.
The author of the slogan for the 2005 ASI Convention, ?Working Together Works,? Bill Hawks, undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Agricultural Marketing Service, talked about the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). He stressed the importance of one centralized database for the NAIS program to assure functionality, as well as confidentiality.
?The livestock industry is capable of identifying and tracking animals now,? Hawks stated. ?What we are trying to do with the NAIS is to do it within 48 hours.?
A clear message was communicated to William Clay, deputy administrator for Wildlife Services (WS), when leaders thanked the department for its continued support in the area of livestock protection and let him know that the sheep industry was encouraging Congress to increase funding in this area. Clay agreed that conflicts between predators and livestock are on the increase, and additional measures are needed to protect flocks.
WS is conducting research in two new areas: 1) utilization of DNA analysis to identify predators with multiple attacks, and 2) placement of electronic-monitoring devices on traps to trigger a response by WS personnel.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), NAIS and the elimination of Canada?s bluetongue restrictions on imported lambs were topics addressed by Andrea Morgan, DVM, associate deputy administrator for regional operations, Veterinary Services, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
According to Morgan, 47 of the 50 states now have some type of NAIS premises-identification system in placed. Unfortunately, sheep producers must currently record their premises in both the scrapie-eradication database, as well as in the NAIS database. She indicated that they are hopeful that, in the near future, they will be able to integrate both systems into one database.
As BSE activities transition from the enhanced-slaughter effort to the maintenance effort, scrapie field personnel, who have been temporarily re-assigned to BSE, will be returning to their scrapie-eradication duties. A priority of this group will be a consistent state status review and consistent implementation of policies.
The elimination of bluetongue, as a trade restriction with Canada, is a critical agenda item for APHIS. In May, tri-lateral talks between Canada, Mexico and the United States addressed this issue. Morgan admitted that progress has been slow in this area, but that there was still forward advancement. She expects more research information on this topic in the next several months.
The percentage of producers who have received their ewe lamb payments is up to 91.4 percent, with the expectation that the remaining 8 percent will have their payment by late June. This was the report delivered by Jim Butler, Ph.D., deputy undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. He assured the participants, some of whom have not yet received their payment, that the department would keep working on the software-payment problems.
The application period has been open for the 2003-2004 Livestock Assistance Program (LAP) since April, with no projected ending date at this time. Approximately 460 sheep ranches have applied for assistance for grazing losses suffered in 2003; 330 have applied for 2004 losses, to date.
Responding to a question about a Livestock Risk Protection Plan for lamb, Butler encouraged the industry to ?not leave Washington thinking the door had been closed for a price-protection product for sheep. You have only begun. There are tools available to the livestock industry.?
Jay Wilson, executive director for NSIIC, was pleased with the day?s announcement by Secretary Johanns of the re-appointment of Jeff Siddoway (Idaho) to his second term on the board and of Guy Flora (Ohio) to fill the open position.
NSIIC chairman, Paul Lewis (Ore.) told the group that NSIIC has provided 37 loans to 30 entities since its inception. There is currently more than $7 million funding in low-interest loans to support industry infrastructures and genetic research, etc.
The annual grant program is open for applications with a deadline date of Oct. 14. The board will be reviewing the results of past grants and providing feedback to the industry.