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ASI Opposes OFF Act

Brad Boner, ASI President

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act has been introduced in both chambers of Congress, and currently there is a push to have it included in the 2024 Farm Bill. As written, the OFF Act would have major detrimental consequences to the American Lamb Board’s ability to do meaningful and needed industry research going forward.
It is important to point out that America’s sheep producers have twice voted to support the American lamb checkoff since its creation in 2002. Both national referendums were approved by a super majority of votes, which had to be counted two ways to be approved: by individual producers and by share of sheep production.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently provides stringent oversight of the lamb checkoff. A USDA representative attends each meeting of the American Lamb Board via telephone or in person. Transparency is also evident on the American Lamb Board’s website at There, you will find annual reports and audited financials.
I believe it to be an extremely bad idea to change federal statutes after our industry has invested its own dollars to build and approve an industry-specific promotion program. Sheep producers designed a promotion program with ranchers, lamb feeders and lamb packing companies each paying a share, and with all three sectors having representation on the American Lamb Board and therefore a say in how promotion efforts are carried out.
Sheep ranchers, lamb feeders and lamb meat companies continue to see the benefit of promoting American lamb. Many of us can remember and witnessed first-hand the negative impacts on our markets when American lamb promotion was absent from the marketplace.
For years, the major food expos, trade shows, advertisements and culinary events were solely represented by imported lamb. It was an important step when we decided as an industry that we couldn’t complain if we weren’t fighting for our own business with our own dollars.
ASI stands opposed to the OFF Act and its unwarranted attempt to re-write a program that the American sheep industry has spent two decades growing and developing.

Year in Review

Happy New Year to the readers. Hopefully, everyone had a great holiday season. Thank you to the readers for your comments and suggestions throughout last year. As we head into the new year, a visit to a year ago and where the current market is can us help think about the year ahead. Some sectors seem too similar to last year, but lamb prices have some positivity when looking through the details.

In the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture retail summary price report, there has been a mixed bag of signals from the consumer sector. From a retail perspective, prices are not far off from the previous year. The current feature rate is at 7.8 percent compared to 11.3 percent from a year ago. For a refresher, the feature rate is the number of sampled stores advertising any reported lamb/veal item during the current week, expressed as a percentage of the total sampled stores.
Thus, lamb is being featured at a lower rate, but still positive throughout the stores. Prices are steady compared to a year ago, with chops holding par and racks being the current price leader at $15.19 per lb., which is $0.55 per lb. higher than last year at this time.
The lamb cutout is down 2.4 percent compared to a year ago at $464.67 per cwt. June was the lowest valued cutout value for 2023, but since then, the cutout has increased approximately $32.80 per cwt. This is the highest value since December 2022.
Thus, the beginning of 2024 is looking similar in trend to last year. Both the Hindsaddle ($509.28) and Foresaddle ($573.97) values in November have increased in the last two months leading into the end of the year and are higher than last year.
While wholesale prices have been increasing the last few weeks, the slaughter numbers are up compared to the previous five-year average and last year. Thus, while slaughter numbers are up – 42,000 weekly head slaughtered in early December – prices are holding relatively steady, which indicates strong demand for domestic lamb product. While slaughter is up, weekly slaughter dressed weights are oscillating around 60 pounds, which is approximately 10 pounds lower than compared to a year ago.
Thus, the market is slaughtering more head than a year ago, but total production is down. Given that the national flock has been constricting, tighter supplies lend to stable to higher prices as we head into 2024.

As we end the year, the three-market (Colorado, South Dakota and Texas) feeder (60 to 90 lb.) lamb prices of $248 per cwt. are ending stronger than any time in 2023, while also being the highest since the summer of 2022, when it was $248.06 per cwt.
In South Dakota, prices are above the average at $266.45 per cwt. for 40 to 60 lb. lambs, which is up from $202.83 per cwt. this time last year. In New Holland, Penn., prices are even higher and holding steady in the low $300s per cwt.
Thus, the slaughter segment of the supply chain is showing some steadiness with smaller dressed weights. That creates demand for feeders, as space opens up with each week. Feeder prices are showing positivity not only as we close out the year, but also now have the biggest positive sign since the summer of 2022. As we head into 2024, production totals – number of head slaughtered and dressed weights – in the next few months will be a key signal for the potential ceiling for the Easter run in 2024.

At the time of this writing, the latest export data available was for October as we head into the close of 2023. American lamb and mutton exports accumulated $1.1 million monthly value in September and in October, which is $287,000 lower than last year for the same two months, but still the highest since March 2023.
In September, the United States exported 287 metric tons of product, while in October, the country exported 183 metric tons of product. The vast difference in tonnage exported while still having the same value indicates that there are markets paying for quality American lamb.
From an import standpoint, during September and October, the United States imported 4.4 million pounds of lamb and mutton with the majority being sourced from Australia. While there is a sticker shock to 4.4 million pounds, the volume is still vastly lower compared to the 12.7 million pounds imported during those two months compared to the same time a year ago.

As we close the year, there have been continuously increasing weeks of positivity from the wool sector. In particular, the U.S. fine wool grades (micron 16.5 to 19) have gained steam. Micron 17 graded wool gained the most steam in early December at an increase of U.S. $0.10 per lb.
Medium wool (micron 19.5 to 24) in the U.S. decreased before the December recess. In Australia, the medium wool grades are on the opposite with continued weekly increases, with 21 micron graded wool increasing at the greatest rate. In crossbred wools (micron 25 to 32), prices for 25 and 26 micron both increased the last few weeks in Australia and in the United States, while all other grades were steady to lower.
The increase in prices is largely due to China mills’ demand. During the past few weeks, China has increased its demand for Australian wool. The China Wool Textile Association made known this was expected back in May. The reason for the increased demand is because China consumers are wanting more “locally” produced wool products, which is a market shift that was influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic situation in China.
At the time of this writing, the market is headed into recess, thus, prices will most likely hold up around the same prices as we head into 2024.

As the year kicks off, producers had a rough – although some positive – time in 2023. As we kick off this year, the markets have shown positivity compared to the same time a year ago. As producers watch the drought monitor, feed costs and market prices, there also seems to be some upward momentum as we kick off this year.

Groenewold To Be Honored Posthumously

Wool Excellence Award Winner Greg Groenewold passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 6, 2023, and will be honored posthumously at the 2024 ASI Annual Convention in Denver. He was chosen for the award earlier this year by ASI’s Wool Roundtable.
“It is with deep sadness that I share the news of the passing of Greg Groenewold early this morning,” ASI Wool Marketing Director Rita Samuelson wrote in an email to industry executives. “He was a dedicated and influential figure, who has been an integral part of the U.S. wool industry for decades.
“Greg was a force behind many of the positive developments of the U.S. Midwest wool sector and Groenewold Fur and Wool. His passion for wool was instrumental in shaping the landscape of the entire industry. He will be remembered as a principled man and for his kindness, leadership, ethics and compassion. His commitment to wool was unwavering, as even after he experienced physical challenges due to his Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, he was regularly in the office, strong as ever, buying and trading wool.
“During this time, our thoughts and condolences are with Greg’s family, friends and those who worked alongside him. May his memory continue to inspire us to uphold the values and standards he believed in. He will be missed.”
Gregory Grant Groenewold was born on Sept. 8, 1960, in Freeport, Ill. Passing away after a 25-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis, he was 63 years old.
Greg graduated from Forreston (Ill.) High School in 1978 and attended Western Illinois University. After college he followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the family business. As a pivotal figure in the company, Greg played a key role in its growth to become the largest wild raw fur business in North America.
In 1998, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Greg fought the disease with the same determination and passion he had at work. Serving as an example for all who knew him, Greg’s continued positive outlook and faith carried him through many stages of health.
He loved his family, friends and church. Serving as an elder, he was a longtime member of North Grove Evangelical Church. Greg was a loving and guiding uncle to his nieces and nephews, and a loyal and trusted friend to many. He tried to live his life to his favorite words and song, Humble and Kind.
Greg is survived by his son, Grant (Araceli) Wonder; one sister, Elizabeth (Ekkehard) Schoettle; two brothers, Gary (Kathie) and Guy (Dawn) Groenewold, and many nieces and nephews whom he adored. Greg was preceded in death by his parents Grant and Beverly Groenewold. Funeral services were conducted on Dec. 11. In lieu of flowers a memorial has been established for North Grove Evangelical Church.

ASI Announces 2024 Award Winners

Sheep operations and industry professionals from a large swath of the United States are included in this year’s list of award winners, all of whom will be recognized at the 2024 ASI Annual Convention this month in Denver.
Winners include:
•  McClure Silver Ram Award: Nick Forrest of Ohio.
•  Peter Orwick Camptender Award: Dr. Ron Lewis of Nebraska and Larry Prager of South Dakota.
•  Distinguished Producer Award: Brent and Tracie Roeder of Montana.
•  Industry Innovation Award: Kyle Farms of New York.
•  Shepherd’s Voice Award: Lorrie Boyer of Colorado.
Cousins Matt Kyle and Nate Hatch have developed the largest commercial, indoor sheep operation east of the Mississippi River with a 5,000-ewe farm that provides customers with a year-round lamb supply. Housed in five massive barns, the operation is based in Avon, N.Y., approximately 30 minutes south of Rochester, N.Y. Lambing takes place every other month to ensure a steady stream of lamb at a variety of weights and sizes.
“We appreciate the recognition,” said Kyle. “We kind of like to keep our mouths shut and just do our work, so we were surprised to hear that we are receiving the Industry Innovation Award. We don’t always like a lot of recognition for what we do, but in this case we will take it.”
Kyle said he hopes to accept the award personally in Denver, but he looked at his 2023 records and the operation had 1,000 lambs born during that same three-day time frame that would be required for him to attend the convention.
“I’m registered, and I’m going to try and get there,” he said. “In case I don’t, there are some people I’d like to thank right now.”
Those on Kyle’s list to thank included: his and Nate’s families; Dr. Richard Ehrhardt of Michigan; Dr. Larry Holler of South Dakota; fellow producer Isaac Matchett of Michigan; John and Betsy Anderson of Ohio for the rams they provide; and the Call family who owns the ground where he’s built the barns that house his large flock.
Dr. Ron Lewis is retiring this month from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and will pick up one half of the Peter Orwick Camptender Award (along with Larry Prager) on his way into retirement. But he isn’t done with the sheep industry just yet. The former longtime technical director of the National Sheep Industry Improvement Program still has a few years of work left on his expansive GEMS Project.
“I’m looking forward to retiring, it’s something my wife and I have been planning on for a while now,” Lewis said. “But it’s a bit frightening.”
Lewis will offer a presentation on the GEMS Project at the ASI Annual Convention the day before the annual awards luncheon.
“(ASI Past President) Susan Shultz called me on my wedding anniversary to tell me about the award,” Lewis said. “I was spending the day with my wife and was completely surprised. She actually called me Dr. Lewis on the phone, so at first I thought I was in trouble. I hope I’m worthy of this award.”
A half-dozen letters of recommendation from producers and academics alike would certainly lead one to believe that he is.
“Dr. Lewis spearheaded the efforts to research and launch the first genomic evaluation of production traits in the U.S. sheep industry through Genomic-Enhanced Estimated Breeding Values. In conjunction with his work on GEBVs, he also developed a program to efficiently determine the genetic conditions for scrapie and OPP susceptibility as well as the mutations for myostatin, callipyge and booroola genes, and to accurately relay those findings to producers in an easily understood manner,” read his nomination for the award.
Center of the Nation’s Larry Prager has been instrumental in his own way in the area of educating sheep producers. Given his position as a wool warehouse manager, it comes as no surprise that he would constantly work with producers, shearers and wool classers on their wool clips. He’s also provided space and resources for collegiate wool judging competitions in an effort to educate the next generation on the qualities of wool.
“The way I see it, education is part of the job,” said Prager. “I’ve worked with producers on everything from wool quality to picking replacements and sire selection. Some of those things are kind of outside the normal duties of a wool warehouse position, but they are important to the industry as a whole.”
Prager has regularly braved cold weather to instruct the North Dakota State University Wool Classing School in Hettinger, N.D.
“When I moved back to Hettinger to begin my professional career, one of the first calls I made was to Larry Prager,” wrote NDSU’s Dr. Christopher Schauer. “I haven’t stopped calling yet, and he always answers the phone and helps me with my questions. He truly is giving back to the industry as a mentor, teacher and friend.”
Nick Forrest has been an ambassador for American lamb for as long as anyone can remember. A past president and member of the American Lamb Board, he might be best known for his lamb cooking demonstrations that have taken place at state sheep association meetings, sheep and wool festivals and countless grocery stores throughout the United States. While he tends to travel in the Eastern half of the country, he’s well known as a lambassador who entertains crowds while his wife, Kathy, does a lot of the prep work to feed the hungry masses he’s convinced to try American lamb.
A sheep producer himself, Forrest has previously served as president of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association as well as on the board of the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program – a state check-off program.
“I’m going to the Michigan state meeting the week before the ASI Convention, so when (OSIA Executive Director) Roger High called to ask if I was going to ASI this year, I told him I might stay home this year,” Forrest said. “But he said, ‘I really think you need to be there.’
“This is a very distinguished award, and I’m happy to receive it. Traveling to a lot of state association meetings and festivals, I see the passion that people have for American lamb just like Kathy and I do. And, I’m happy to see that. It’s fun to talk to people who share that passion.”
Like some of the other award winners, Brent and Tracie Roeder have contributed to the American sheep industry in countless ways during a lifetime of involvement. Brent grew up on a sheep operation in Texas before making his way to Montana. After managing the Sieben Livestock Company, he and Tracie forged their own path with an operation that spawned two companies: Montana Sheep Company and Montana Wool Company.
Raising quality sheep would have been enough to earn the couple ASI’s Distinguished Producer award, but they took it a step further in developing direct marketing opportunities for both their lamb and value-added wool products. While Brent routinely credits Tracie for handling the family’s successful wool venture, he draws extra praise from producers throughout Big Sky Country for his work as the state’s extension specialist for range sheep production.
“He provides practical solutions to all that he serves,” read a nomination letter from Merrill McKamey. “Without Brent’s continued involvement and good relations with university administrators, the recent decisions to reinvest in the Montana State University Wool Lab would not have been accomplished. Their insight and advice have gone above and beyond in providing expertise to sheep producers.”
True to form, the Roeders said their contributions to the industry wouldn’t have been possible without others who helped them along the way.
“This award is a testament to the character of the American sheep industry, in particular the Montana Wool Growers, Targhee breeders and Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers,” Brent and Tracie said. “Every step of the way from our youth to the present, we have had tremendous mentorship through 4-H and FFA, fellow producers and extension professionals. Any success we’ve enjoyed has been because someone took the time to listen and advise us. Folks always helped. Our industry has a rich history of sharing knowledge and bringing young people to the table. It is an honor just to be nominated. We are stunned and grateful to receive the Distinguished Producer Award.”
A 26-year veteran of farm broadcasting in Colorado, Lorrie Boyer has covered several intriguing issues at the local, state and national levels while building a longstanding relationship with a multitude of agricultural associations along the way. She serves as farm director and morning show host at KSIR Radio in Fort Morgan, Colo. In addition, she regularly appears on RFD-TV and produces the Ag Queen podcast.
Boyer previously served as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting and has covered a number of sheep industry stories through the years, including Farm Bill priorities, lamb markets and the increasing supply of imported lamb.
“I have truly enjoyed working with ASI over the years, always good interviews and have always had a good relationship with (Executive Director) Peter Orwick and the association’s presidents. It is especially fun catching up at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention each year and learning more about what current issues and initiatives that ASI is working on.”

Got Sheep’s Milk?

No American sheep producer is surprised to learn that the country is overrun with lamb meat imports. But did you realize the same could be said for sheep’s milk products? Wisconsin’s Ms. J and Company is looking help develop the industry and to change that.
Established in 2015, the company began milking sheep in rural Juda, Wis., four years later at a state-of-the-art facility under the watchful eye of Portugal native Mariana Marques de Almeida.
“Our dream was to help increase sheep milk production in the United States,” Mariana said. “The US is the largest importer of sheep milk in the world but the US availability of sheep genetics to produce milk has been scarce and that is where we are helping. I don’t know if the sheep industry here is aware of all that is going on with the dairy side. Even some people in the sheep industry are surprised when I tell them we’re milking sheep. But sheep’s milk is a great product, and can be used to create amazing cheese, yogurt, and other products.”
Along with partners Shirley Knox and Jeff Wideman – the first initials of their names form the Ms. J moniker – Mariana hopes to provide an endless supply of sheep’s milk cheese to American cheesemakers. In addition, the company is building a flock of Assaf sheep that provides additional genetics to sheep dairies all around the country.
“We haven’t put this much money into this facility, and the incredible people, with doubt,” Wideman said in the same Cheese Reporter article. “We need to show the industry our success so the dairy manufacturer, as well as the marketer, has confidence in quality and supply. Our success is support.”

An animal scientist with years of experience raising sheep and making cheese in Portugal and Spain, Mariana met Wideman while judging a cheese competition in Spain. That led to her judging at the world championship cheese contest in Wisconsin and started the ball rolling on Ms. J and Company.
This fall, the company was milking more than 350 ewes and producing nearly 2,500 pounds of milk a day with twice daily milkings. Each ewe has an RFID bolus in its rumen that registers in the milking parlor and allows production to be tracked and studied. Sheep are sorted into groups based on milk production, and an electronic sorting gate allows for sheep to be automatically removed from their groups based on that production.
The milking parlor was built with expansion in mind, as Mariana hopes to be milking up to 1,000 ewes a day in the future. Insulated curtains raise and lower automatically along the sides of the barn based on the outside wind and temperature, both of which can become extreme during Wisconsin winters. But the hearty Assaf-bred sheep aren’t complaining.
The course wool breed is a cross of Awassi and East Friesian sheep that originated in Israel but is now synonymous with Spain. Assaf sheep are known for their Roman nose, floppy ears and fat tails. The breed comes in a variety of beautiful, spotted white and brown colors and East Friesian adds black to the mix.
“The lambs tend to have a lot of color,” Mariana said. “We’re lambing every two months (a necessity for a dairy operation), so we always have a lot of lambs around. We’re a scrapie-free certified flock and, because we are using imported semen from Spain, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service requires we tag everything at birth.
“Spain and the Assaf breed started an improvement program 30 years ago, increasing milk production traits” Mariana said. “Eight years ago, they started genotyping their population and, together with all the data collected in 30 years, they are now able to add that powerful tool to make accurate genetic predictions of their young animals. We’ve already sent samples of all our rams be genotyped testing. We got the first results this fall, and it was so amazing.
“One of the oldest rams from 2021 that I thought was pretty good proved to be one of the five best rams we have right now. I was happy about that. But I was surprised by a few rams whose moms are amazing. They weren’t as good as I thought they would be. I’m very happy to have the information, even if the results aren’t what I expected. It’s nice that we don’t have to wait five years to really see genetic value of the rams like we do in a traditional genetic improvement program.”
While producing a genetically pure Assaf is the guiding principle at Ms. J and Company, the ultimate goal is to establish a healthy, productive and easy to milk sheep flock.
“I wanted to go with the Assaf with a really good udder conformation, good milk production and, good overall conformation” Mariana said. “Milk production was pretty much guaranteed, so I went a step back and started focusing on the overall best females we had. We are starting to see more and more of that ideal Assaf sheep, but there is still a lot of work to be done. But we have some that are 75 to 87.5 percent Assaf who are really good and productive milkers. We’re focused on that good udder, good conformation and easy milking. We are getting to the Assaf part slowly, but soundly.”

Moving from Portugal to rural Wisconsin in an effort to expand sheep milk access in the United States seems like a bit of a crazy adventure. But Mariana said she’s always had a penchant for tackling exotic ideas.
“For me, it was a huge challenge to do something like this,” she said. “I think that all of the sheep milk and sheep cheesemakers in the United States are amazingly resilient. There just haven’t been a lot of resources here for them. I came here in 2014 to see what was available, and I realized that what we were talking about doing (making cheese) wouldn’t be possible unless we brought in high-producing, proven genetics from outside the United States. There was no way this investment was going to work without being able to improve the milk producing sheep we had available here.”
Those genetics are now available to American producers. Rams not sold as breeding stock are castrated before leaving the property.
“We also control the girls we sell for meat,” Mariana said. “We want to support the industry, but we’ve made a big investment to bring in these genetics to build and improve our flock, so we can’t just give them away.”
The company’s main product, of course, is the milk, fluid and frozen. Pallets of frozen milk ship out to companies all around the United States. It ends up in a variety of products, such as cheese, ice cream, yogurt or even healthy drinks.
“Sheep’s milk is different – it doesn’t have the taste of goat’s milk and it’s more digestible than cow’s milk – and I think companies need to take advantage of that to produce some great products,” Mariana said. “I think more and more people are starting to notice the value of sheep’s milk.”
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