Lamb Roadmap Discussions Vary

Lamb Roadmap Discussions Vary

RON DAINES
Sheep Industry News Contributor

The new Lamb Roadmap, unveiled at the ASI convention in Charleston, is a “wakeup call” for the entire industry.

“Declining numbers of sheep and producers have just become a part of the industry. As you can see, this is a wakeup call,” said Dan Lippert, chairman of the American Lamb Board. “If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting.”

Lippert was one of several industry leaders who offered their thoughts on the Lamb Roadmap after it was presented by Bob Ludwig, a principal of the Boston-based Hale Group, which facilitated development of the roadmap with a 19-member advisory board representing all sectors of the sheep industry.

“If any of you don’t think we need the roadmap, you shouldn’t be here,” said Frank Moore, a Wyoming producer and former ASI president. “I’m tired of going in the wrong direction. It’s not a turf battle. We’re all in this together.”

Richard Hamilton, a producer from California, where the roadmap got its impetus, described the Lamb Roadmap as an opportunity.

“I think we need to stay focused,” said Hamilton. “We need to revitalize the industry so it’s competitive not only with imports but with other agricultural commodities as well.”

Hamilton credited Nancy East, a veterinarian and former president of the California Wool Growers Association, and Lesa Carlton, association executive director, with stimulating development of the Lamb Roadmap in a June 5, 2012, letter calling for “meaningful and progressive discussions” to address a volatile, unstable lamb market. That led to the hiring in January 2013, through competitive bids, of the Hale Group, a consulting firm that provides counsel to food and agriculture industries. Development of the roadmap was funded by the American Lamb Board and a grant from the National Sheep Improvement Center.

During his presentation in Charleston, Hale Group principal Ludwig outlined where the industry has been and where the roadmap is designed to lead it.

Over the past few decades, the travel lanes for lamb are clear: U.S. per capita consumption of American lamb dropped to 0.31 pounds by 2012 from 4.8 pounds in 1945. U.S. lamb production decreased and imports increased. And while other red meats have done better than lamb, Ludwig said lamb is now the high priced meat – in 2010, lamb was 43% more expensive than beef.

“It all boils down to this,” he said. “We in the lamb industry are not providing value to consumers. Our prices are high and our product is inconsistent. If you’re going to count on top prices, you need consistency and quality.”

Ludwig said that if the industry fails to begin aggressive change, five years from now imports will be 80 percent of U.S. consumption, many commercial producers will have left the industry and traditional marketing channels will be on the verge of collapse. Ten years from now, without aggressive change, traditional marketing channels will have collapsed, the nontraditional marketing channels will be profitable after dramatic growth and American consumption of lamb will start to grow from a low base.

The good news, said Ludwig, is that he’s hearing more talk about the need to change.

But whatever the industry does, he added, “Consumers will get what they want. If you don’t supply it, they’ll get it from someone else.” Ludwig said the sheep industry needs to understand that it’s in the high-end, specialty meat business. That means that quality must be created and maintained at every link in the industry’s chain all the way to the consumer – from seedstock producer, to commercial producer, to feedlot operator, to packer, to fabricator, to retailer and foodservice operator. And that, he said, means every participant in the chain that provides quality must be paid for quality.

Ludwig offered a 10-year vision of potential Lamb Roadmap results: a significant increase in consumption of lamb that has less fat and more consistency in taste; most lambs will be sold on a value-based pricing system, the industry will be more collaborative and coordinated and there will be consistent profits in all sectors. To reach those plateaus, he listed four primary goals:

1. Make American lamb a premier product every time
2. Promote lamb as a premier meat
3. Improve productivity to maintain competitive advantage
4. Work together as a whole industry

Ludwig noted, “if we have lot of satisfied consumers, if consumption is growing and all sectors are experiencing profitability.

The sheep industry leaders Ludwig invited to offer their perspectives echoed support of the Lamb Roadmap. Oregon producer Clint Krebs, president of the American Sheep Industry, said ASI has recently added $30,000 to the Let’s Grow campaign, which ties into the Lamb Roadmap, and it will continue to work to build linkages between traditional and nontraditional lamb marketers, as well work to ensure funding for Wildlife Services as predation has been shown to be the biggest impediment to industry growth.

Milt Ward, president of the National Lamb Feeders Association, encouraged production loop feedback. “We need more feedback from plants and feeders going back to the producer so he knows if he’s going in the right direction,” said Ward.

Reid Redden, director of the National Sheep Improvement Program, appreciated that the Lamb Roadmap identifies the importance of NSIP, which seeks to improve sheep genetics.

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