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President’s Notes

ASI Heads to Pennsylvania for NLFA Leadership School

Benny Cox, ASI President

Summer is upon us and we are busy in our travels as representative for the sheep industry. This month, the ASI Executive Board, officers and staff will join the National Lamb Feeders Association in Pennsylvania in conjunction with the Howard Wyman Sheep Industry Leadership School.

It is in July every year that the executive board has a face-to-face meeting, and this year the NLFA school provided an opportunity to broaden our understanding of the ethnic market even further. We will have the opportunity to visit the auction in New Holland, Penn., on a sheep and goat sale day. That’s right down my alley.

Each and every year we spend at least a full day in our business meeting and a day or so visiting places that might be of interest to our group. I feel that the collective group can make better decisions when their knowledge covers all areas of the United States and the American sheep industry. The marketing of sheep and goats in the East and Northeast verses the far West and Northwest is very different. I for one have an understanding of the situations surrounding both the traditional and the non-traditional markets, but still think there could be more to learn just being in the thick of things, so I am looking forward to the trip.

In our monthly officer conference calls – as well as daily communications – there is always something to do. Last month, I spoke of our request for available funds approved in the Farm Bill. This month, we delivered our message making clear our wool export issues as well as the sheepskin problems stemming from tariffs imposed by China – which is where the majority of our wool and hides go.

Before the tariff issues, more than 70% of American wool has gone to China and 80 percent of the sheepskins. There will be many that benefit from the $16.1 billion agricultural relief plan the Trump Administration has implemented for those that are hurt by those imposed tariffs. Direct payments are scheduled to start in July and go through fall as I understand, while new alternative options for marketing are being searched out. We have seen two markets open for lamb exports in the last two years due to the efforts of ASI in Washington, D.C., so who knows what might happen in the days to come.

ASI is continuing to monitor the situation with China while fighting for funding on two fronts: to promote American wool in new and expanding export markets and to provide for direct payments to wool producers affected by the trade war with China. You can read more about those efforts on page 10 of this issue.

This year’s corn crop is in jeopardy thanks to widespread flooding in areas that raise the corn. Some areas that have been planted are under water and some producers are waiting to get into the fields. There is concern that it might be so late that some producers will be inhibited from planting corn at all this season. In the first week of June, there was a $19.1 billion disaster payout passed to help farmers affected by floods, as well as wildfires in other areas. One of the down sides in all of this is that the cost of corn will increase feed costs for many producers.

Market Report

Trade Uncertainty Adds Cost to Industry

In May, the United States was challenging trade policies on two fronts – China and Mexico.

The lamb and wool industries are increasingly integrated into the global economy with more than 50 percent of our available lamb from Australia and New Zealand, our largest raw wool export market in China and our largest live and lamb export market in Mexico. Tariffs can add costs to trade, or can be prohibitively high as to halt trade altogether – as threatened with American lambskins to China. Regardless of the level of tariff enacted, tariffs – or even the threat of tariffs – disrupts business as usual, adding costs and narrowing margins.

Sheep producers are impacted by tariffs, but so too are rural economies across the United States. A sheep industry impact analysis revealed that one dollar in sheep and sheep-related production added an additional $2.87 to the American economy in 2016. That is, one dollar of sheep production and related goods has a multiplier effect of nearly three times the initial sheep investment.

Slaughter Lamb Markets Strong

Formula slaughter lamb price averaged $295.57 per cwt. on a carcass basis in May, up 3 percent monthly and 7 percent higher year-on-year. The live-equivalent average was $145.85 per cwt. Live, harvest weights for formula lambs were 167 lbs., up marginally in May and 5 percent lower year-on-year.

Live, negotiated slaughter lambs averaged $153.40 per cwt. in May, up 1 percent monthly and down 6 percent year-on-year. In the year through May, reported lambs sold on a live negotiated basis was down 31 percent to 46,890 head. It is hypothesized that more lambs are channeled through formula-based marketing agreements and more lambs are packer-owned.

In May, feeder lamb prices at auction in Colorado, Texas, and South Dakota averaged $178.75 per cwt., down 2 percent monthly and down 9 percent year-on-year according to the Livestock Marketing Information Center (6/7/19).

Meat Prices Higher

The wholesale composite averaged $389.48 per cwt. in May, up 2 percent monthly and up 3 percent year-on-year. All primals gained monthly with the leg seeing with the largest lift.

The 8-rib rack, medium, averaged $890.85 per cwt., up 0.2 percent monthly in May. The shoulder square-cut gained 3 percent to $293.41 per cwt. The loin, trimmed 4×4, saw $522.80 per cwt., up 0.5 percent monthly. The leg, trotter-off, averaged $381.34 per cwt., up 5 percent monthly.

Compared to a year ago, the rack was 5 percent higher in May, the shoulder was 4 percent higher, the loin was 5 percent lower and the leg was up 3 percent.

Production and Trade Increase

In the year through May, an estimated 821,995 head of lambs were harvested, up 3 percent year-on-year. Lamb production was estimated at 56.7 million lbs., down 1 percent year-on-year.

Production was lower because average carcass weights through May averaged 69 lbs., down 4 percent. Federally-inspected live weights at harvest were at a five-year low for the first five months of the year.

Lamb Market Analysis

American lamb supplies have been tight this year, which has supported higher slaughter lamb prices. As of June 1, 86,652 head were reported in Colorado feedlots, down 12 percent monthly and 36 percent lower than a year ago.

What is puzzling is the while lamb supplies have been tight and prices higher, the percent of overfat lambs – as seen in a higher percentage of lambs grading yield grade 4s and 5s – is high. The percent of lambs with increased back fat was at a five-year high for the first trimester at 31 percent of total graded.

Stronger domestic slaughter lamb prices were also a surprise given imports were up, as were freezer inventories. In the first quarter, imports were up 24 percent year-on-year to 66.4 million lbs. Australian imports were up 22 percent to 49.6 million lbs. and New Zealand lamb was up 28 percent to 16.4 million lbs.

Given limited supply and ongoing dry conditions, Australian lamb prices are at a record high; however, the lower Australian dollar relative to the stronger U.S. dollar gives Australian lamb an export advantage.

It is hypothesized that imported and domestic markets might be seeing some separation. They do not necessarily function as one, integrated market. It is believed that domestic production is channeled more and more into the food service market, while imported lamb fulfills retail accounts.

In the first quarter, estimated lamb availability – not counting freezer inventory or exports – was up 12 percent year-on-year to 102.6 millioin lbs., with imports accounting for 64 percent of the total.

Lamb and mutton in cold storage totaled 41 million lbs. in May, up 32 percent monthly and 20-percent higher year-on-year. May’s total is 87 percent of the highest freezer inventory on record – 47 million lbs. in 2016.

It is often believed that freezer inventory is primarily imported production, but if this is the case, it is difficult to explain some market dynamics. In 2017, slaughter lamb prices rose sharply after a concurrent drop in cold storage stocks by 57 percent in 12 months.

In early June, LMIC forecasted slaughter lamb price on a carcass basis was $294 to $300 per cwt. for the third quarter, up 5 percent year-on-year. Sixty- to 90-lb. feeder lamb prices at auction were forecasted at $167 to $177 per cwt. in the third quarter, up 19 percent year-on-year.

Tight lamb supplies will catch up with the industry in an already low-supply third quarter, pushing prices up.

Lamb Exports Higher

The U.S. Meat Export Federation reported in May that demand for American lamb is still climbing overseas. In the first quarter, lamb exports totaled $6.9 million, up 29 percent year-on-year.

Exports totaled 4,173 MT (9.2 million lbs.), 68 percent higher from a year ago. In January to March, variety meat exports to Mexico were up 81 percent year-on-year to 3,391 MT and 51 percent higher in value to $2.65 million.

Other important lamb export markets include the Caribbean, Canada, the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia.

Pelts Continue to Struggle

Pelt prices have been hit hard by sharply higher export tariffs on pelts; however, this is only one part of the story. Tariffs exacerbated an already struggling industry. Like many trends, fashions come and go, and pelts have suffered with new product developments.

For example, the development of synthetic leather – used as an artificial backing to products – has hurt the industry. Some products such as shoe linings in boots have replaced genuine lambskin with cheaper synthetics.

Other headwinds challenge pelt sales. Pelts are sharply lower in competing countries such as Australia and England. Further, Chinese growth is slowing and global growth has been struggling. Additionally, the U.S. dollar remains strong, which means American pelts are at a competitive disadvantage on the world market. A strong dollar means that American goods are more expensive in foreign markets.

The United States exports about 80 percent of its pelts to China. Last August, the duty on American pelts to China was about 8 percent, rose to 18 percent last fall and rose again to 43 percent in June. The industry is looking for alternative markets, but when China became the dominate tanner with cheaper labor and relaxed environmental regulations, other processors closed shop.

Increasingly, American producers are receiving negative credits for pelts. But again, that’s not the whole story. Starting in January, price offerings for pelts have fallen due to the duties, but it is also a time of year when pelts are generally lower quality. Unshorn premium pelts ranged from -$1.50 to $3.63 per piece in May, down roughly 23 percent monthly and down 82 percent year-on-year.

American Wool Prices Lower

On average, American Territory wool prices in May were down 17 percent compared to last year. While the better prepared wools received top dollar, on average, prices were lower on the back of a 25-percent export tariff on raw wool exports to China – American wool’s leading export market.

In May, 18 micron averaged $6.54 per lb. clean, down 7 percent year-on-year. Twenty micron averaged $5.75 per lb., down 12 percent; 22 micron saw $5.03 per lb., down 14 percent; 24 micron averaged $3.90 per lb., down 28 percent; and 26 micron averaged $3.08, down 26 percent. The finer wools lost about 44 cents per lb. clean year-on-year while the coarser wools averaged $1.18 per lb. lower.

Fiber diameter (micron) of wool can explain 70 to 80 percent of wool’s greasy price, according to Australian Wool Innovation Ltd.

This spring, the premium received for fine wool above medium-grade wools was about $1.44 per lb. clean (0.75 cents greasy).

On June 6, the Australian Eastern Market Indicator averaged Australian 1,864 cents per kg clean, down 7 percent year-on-year. In U.S. dollars, the EMI averaged 1,299 cents per kg clean ($5.89 per lb. clean). By June 6, the EMI had weakened in four out of the previous five weeks.

In early June, the Australian dollar continued to weaken, giving Australian wool an export boost. On June 6, the Australian dollar equaled 69.71 U.S. dollars, down 9 percent year-on-year.

One factor affecting American and Australian wool prices is market volatility during the past three months or so, and moving forward. Exchange rate volatility causes price volatility as does uncertainty in available Australian supplies and international trade policies.

Tight global supplies and strong demand continue to support wool prices. In late May at Australian wool auctions, “The increase in confidence, resulted in an aggressive approach, as buyers fought hard to secure meaningful quantity of a relatively small selection,” (Weekly Wool Market Report, 5/23/19).

Within the worsted fabric manufacturing sector, sales are down compared to last year (Queensland Country Life, 6/3/19). Wool fashions calling for fine, worsted wool for suits or uniforms are being challenged by costs. Some processors will produce polyester-blended suits, or lighter-fabric suits (using less wool), while others will look for cost efficiencies in production.

The fundamentals for strong wool prices are present, so hopefully tariff concerns are only a short-term setback.

According to Bruce McLeish, Elders Northern Zone Wool Manager, strong demand from Chinese production of new wool uniforms, or “newly created demand for alternative products,” or short supply means that the “price of greasy wool is unlikely to go down very much in the short term,” (Queensland Country Life, 6/3/19).

ASI Requests Support for American Wool Affected by Trade War

ASI is calling for support of American wool and its producers on two fronts as the ongoing trade war between the United States and China continues well into 2019 with no end in sight.

While American wool producers weren’t specifically mentioned in a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release on the $16 billion relief package proposed in May by President Donald J. Trump, ASI has asked to be included in the Market Facilitation Program that is a part of that package. MFP designated $14.5 billion for direct payments to producers in a number of agricultural industries.

“These payments will help farmers to absorb some of the additional costs of managing disrupted markets, to deal with surplus commodities and to expand and develop new markets at home and abroad,” read a USDA press release on the program. “Payments will be made in up to three tranches, with the second and third tranches evaluated as market conditions and trade opportunities dictate. The first tranche will begin in late July/early August, as soon as practical after Farm Service Agency crop reporting is completed by July 15. If conditions warrant, the second and third tranches will be made in November and early January.”

ASI brought the struggles of the American Wool industry to the attention of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a May letter from ASI President Benny Cox.

“We ask for your consideration of sheep producers when developing a trade assistance package following the latest round of trade retaliation,” Cox wrote. “American  wool  and  sheepskin  producers  have experienced significant losses as a result of the ongoing trade war with China. Without additional support, increasing the tariff from 10 percent to 25 percent will lead to the elimination of key export markets entirely and further losses in the wool and sheepskin markets.”

The second avenue ASI is pursuing to strengthen the industry is by applying for funds from the Foreign Agricultural Service’s Agricultural Trade Promotion Program. ATP is a cost-share program that is designed to reimburse non-profit U.S. agricultural trade organizations, non-profit state regional trade groups, U.S. agricultural cooperatives and state agencies that conduct approved foreign market development activities and have suffered damages as a result of tariffs imposed on American agricultural products since 2018-19.

FAS support was especially crucial to the American wool industry in the mid-1990s when manufacturing shifted overseas and ASI worked tirelessly to develop foreign customers for American wool. ASI  has continued to use funds from FAS’ Foreign Market Development Program, Market Access Program and Quality Samples Program to support American wool sales ever since. The use of such funds were essential to developing a network of customers in China. But American sheep producers began to feel the effects of a 10-percent tariff enacted by the Chinese government last fall. American wool and sheepskins now find themselves without a large buyer for the first time in our nation’s history because of the tariff battle with China. Sheepskin prices have taken such a nosedive that producers are being charged just to dispose of what was once a valuable product.

From September 2018 to March 2019:

• The total dollar value of wool exported to China has dropped
85 percent (when compared to the previous year). China was the top market for raw wool and consumed 72 percent of total American wool exports.

• The total dollar value of sheepskins exported to China has dropped 67 percent (when compared to the previous year). China was also the top market for sheepskins and consumed 80 percent of all American sheepskin exports.

There’s not enough demand by domestic manufacturers to use the entirety of American wool and sheepskin production, which means ASI must continue to lead the way in developing international markets for an all-natural product that is in demand from consumers around the world, and FAS programs play a crucial role in that process. The American wool industry has been here before and succeeded.

That successful history was highlighted in ASI’s request for ATP funding as it looks to develop a growing and rapidly expanding market for wool in Egypt, as well as emerging markets in Western Europe, Taiwan and South America. Such funding would also support developing new markets for American sheepskins in Western Europe, Mexico and Hong Kong.

FAS is expected to award ATP funds by the end of July.

Montana Judge Sides With Sheep Experiment Station

At the end of May, the United States District Court of Montana ruled in favor of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station on a motion for permanent injunction and summary judgement.

Beginning in 2012, the plaintiffs in this case – Cotton Environmental Law Center and others – filed a lawsuit against the sheep station and the Agricultural Research Service seeking a new biological opinion from the agency. Again in 2014, the plaintiffs challenged the new biological opinion they had sought, and the station’s underlying National Environmental Policy Act analysis. This action effectively ceased grazing on the station’s lands in this controversy, as the station agreed not to graze sheep until the completion of the ongoing NEPA. The completion of this NEPA and accompanying Environmental Impact Statement resulted in the plaintiffs seeking an injunction and motion for summary judgement against the station in March 2018.

The basis of the plaintiff’s most recent claims was that sheep grazing was injurious to the grizzly bear population in the area and resulted in an increased likelihood

 of human-bear conflicts. The plaintiffs asserted that they had new evidence of this increased likelihood of conflict that had not been considered in the environmental documents and demanded a supplemental EIS be prepared. Citing grizzly bear activity in the vicinity of the station’s lands and tangential evidence, the plaintiff’s claimed the preceding final EIS was invalid.

As the judge noted, a supplemental EIS is necessary when there is a substantial change to use relevant to environmental concerns or significant new information presented. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, finding that the evidence presented was not new in time, or new in fact.

The information regarding the possibility of human-bear conflicts was adequately considered in the final EIS and therefore a supplemental EIS was not necessary. Evaluating the plaintiff’s claim under the Administrative Procedures Act, an agency action can only be set aside if it was arbitrary and capricious. Through the court’s analysis the evidence supported a rational connection between the facts the agency considered and the decision they made.

Unfortunately, the station has been the target of environmental litigation seeking to remove sheep grazing for far too long. ASI and the association’s U.S. Sheep Experiment Station Working Group members are wholly dedicated to defending research at the station for the next century though advocacy in the courts, Congress and the administration.

Five Producers Selected to Advise Wildlife Services

Sheep producers count themselves among Wildlife Services’ biggest fans, so it’s no surprise that five producers were appointed or reappointed to the National Wildlife Services Advisory Committee earlier this year.

The five producers selected for the committee include: Dan Dawson of Oregon, Joel Dennis of Texas, Burdell Johnson of North Dakota, Dave McEwen of Montana and Cat Urbigkit of Wyoming.

The 19-member board has representatives from a variety of industries that interact with Wildlife Services, including ranchers, wildlife specialists, aquaculture and more. Traditionally, animal rights groups have even been represented on the committee.

“Livestock people need to be there to offset some of those other interests,” said Johnson, a veteran committee member. Johnson wasn’t even sure he was eligible for reappointment, but found himself on the committee once again when the official announcement was made in May. “It’s interesting to me because I’ve been involved with Wildlife Services all my life. There’s a lot of different issues that come up, from dealing with birds around the airports to birds catching fish at the fish farms to coyotes and other problems that are more familiar to sheep producers.”

Johnson pointed to the use of M-44s as an issue that might come up during the committee’s three-day meeting in Washington, D.C., in September.

“We’ll probably have to push pretty hard to make sure we can keep using those,” he said.

“We don’t want to see the sheep industry lose any tools that might stop a predator from killing sheep.”

Dennis was reappointed to the committee, as well in 2019. He agrees that sharing the industry’s point of view, in addition to providing general support for Wildlife Services are important aspects of serving on the committee.

“We have to counteract the animal rights groups,” he says. “They keep preaching transparency with Wildlife Services, but it’s all there on their website. I don’t think Wildlife Services has ever tried to hide the way they handle predators and other wildlife issues.

“As a sheep producer, my biggest concern is protecting sheep, and to do that we need to make sure that we don’t lose any of the tools we have available. It’s bad enough that there always seems to be limited funding available for Wildlife Services. That limits some of what they can do, and there’s not much we can do about that.”

Dennis said there will be plenty of talk about issues that don’t affect the sheep industry, as well.

“There’s a lot of different people at the table, but most of them are very supportive of Wildlife Services. We’ve got some new faces on the committee this year, and I think that’s good. They bring new points of view, and it will be important to hear what they have to say.”

Dennis was originally “recruited” to the committee by longtime Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association Executive Secretary Sandy Whittley.

ASI’s Adams Named to Advisory Committee on Animal Trade

ASI’s Chase Adams has been appointed to the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products.

ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick said the association is pleased its nomination was appointed to continue nearly 20 years of association representation on the committee.

“We look forward to monitoring trade regarding sheep and sheep products and thank Dr. Dennis Stiffler for his service as the ASI representative on the last advisory committee,” Orwick said.

The appointment of more than 100 members to six agricultural trade committees was announced in mid June by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The two also announced appointments to the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee at the same time.

Congress established the advisory committee system in 1974 to ensure that U.S. agricultural trade policy objectives reflect U.S. public- and private-sector commercial and economic interests. USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative jointly manage the committees.

The Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee provides advice and information to the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative on the administration of trade policy, including enforcement of existing trade agreements and negotiating objectives for new trade agreements.

The Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees offer technical advice and information about specific commodities and products.

The appointees will serve until June 15, 2023, and the committees will be supplemented by additional appointments during the next four years.

“She said we needed a replacement for someone on the committee and that she wanted me to do it,” Dennis recalled. “If you know Sandy, you’ll know that was pretty much the end of the discussion.”

McEwen feels like his state has as many issues as any when it comes to predators, and thus is a big-time advocate of Wildlife Services. The former president of the Montana Wool Growers Association had direct conversations with USDA Deputy Administrator for Wildlife Services Janet Bucknall about getting involved with the committee.

“She sat at my kitchen table and we talked about a lot of the issues, and she thought I should be involved with this committee,” McEwen said. “I’m not sure how much authority or influence we’ll really have, but it can’t hurt to be involved.”

McEwen pointed to an unfunded memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service on grizzly bears that is taking money away from normal predation work as a continuing problem in his state.

“We want Wildlife Services to do the work, but we need to get all of the funding back on track. There’s already not enough money to go around.”

Dawson has a similar problem, but it centers around wolves instead of bears. With limited resources, every penny spent dealing with wolves means less money for stopping other predators.

“We aren’t having problems at my place yet, but it could happen tomorrow,” he said. “There’s a pack of wolves just eight miles from my place. We’ve got a lot of money going into the wolves that’s not there to spend on trapping coyotes. We’ve also lost the M-44s in Oregon, as they’ve been banned statewide.”

Dawson has worked closely with local Wildlife Services officials in recent years, so his initial appointment to the committee is a good fit for the veteran producer.

“I talk to my district manager at least once a week, so this fits right into my wheelhouse. I look forward to having a chance to give my input at the national level.”

While many in the industry know Urbigkit as editor/owner of The Shepherd magazine, she’s also a sheep producer in southwest Wyoming and has plenty of experience dealing with predators on the family ranch.

“We’ve relied on Wildlife Services for years,” Urbigkit said. “We do a lot of predator deterrent on our place, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for lethal control by Wildlife Services. What we see is a general public that wants to ban a lot of the tools that we use on a regular basis to protect our flock.”

ASI nominated Urbigkit to the committee, and she said she looks forward to conversations and debate when the committee meets this fall.

“When people go into a discussion with an open mind, then we can have a conversation and try to find the best solution,” she said. “But if someone wants to harm Wildlife Services or livestock production in general, that’s something I can’t tolerate.”

Gov. Little Remembers His Sheepman Roots

Whether he’s flying or driving to his next public appearance, Idaho Gov. Brad Little looks around his native state and the same thought crosses his mind over and over again.

“There’s so much country in our state that could benefit from the light hand of a band of sheep on it,” he says. “We’re still a big sheep state, but not as big as we used to be, or as big as I’d like us to be.”

The most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture place the state’s sheep population at 220,000 head – good for seventh largest in the country. But as fire season takes hold in the intermountain west, Little longs for the days when those numbers were two or three times that size.

“The fire season is going to be interesting,” he says, adding that the state’s snowpack was well beyond normal in 2019 – especially when compared to recent years. “Good sheep grazing doesn’t eliminate fire at all, but it makes it more manageable.”

A third-generation rancher from Emmett, Idaho – his grandfather, Andy Little, was known as the Sheep King of Idaho – Little knows a thing or two about the benefits of sheep grazing. His father sold the sheep and turned strictly to cattle when he was 7 years old, but he came back to the industry working with his aunt’s sheep operation – which he took over when she died.

His ties to the sheep industry grew even stronger when he married Teresa Soulen in 1978. The daughter of Phil Soulen, Teresa grew up surrounded by what remains one of the state’s largest sheep operations. Her sister, Margaret Soulen-Hinson, served as ASI President in 2011-12.

“I’d been to a few Idaho Wool Growers meetings with my father-in-law and some friends, and suddenly I was vice president of the association,” recalls Little, who went on to serve as president of the group in 1991-93. “When I was representing Idaho, I got involved with ASI. I’d already worked on public lands issues with our cattle operation, so it was a natural fit for me to be involved in those issues on the sheep side. Eventually I became chairman of ASI’s Public Lands Committee and worked with the Public Lands Council. At the same time, I was taking on leadership positions in business and education and moving more and more toward a life in politics.”

Little was appointed by then Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to fill a state senate vacancy in May 2001, and was elected to the position in the fall of 2002. He served there until 2009, when he was once again appointed to fill a vacant slot – this time as lieutenant governor. He was elected by the general public the following year and held the position until his election as governor in the fall of 2018, when he collected the seventh straight gubernatorial victory for Republicans in Idaho.

“Running for governor was a lot of work,” he says from his office at the State Capitol Building in Boise. “But my connections in sheep, cattle and agriculture, and the fact that I’d been on tours all across the state with the Idaho Wool Growers was pretty darn helpful. When you go into a community and you’ve been there before on a range tour or to study a local issue, people don’t just see you as some interloper from Boise. I had a connection, and that was important. I was fortunate to have served in statewide leadership positions in several areas, so people knew me as someone other than just a guy running for office. They knew me as someone who cared about how they made a living.”

Now that he’s survived his first legislative session (as governor) and had half a year to settle into the position, Little certainly wants to do what he can to grow the state’s sheep industry.

“Years ago, I spent a couple of days in British Columbia looking at how they were using sheep,” he recalls. “They were paying a fortune to bring in sheep and graze areas to replace sheep that had once been there. I see the same thing happening in Idaho. We’ve got a lot of nice homes in the foothills around Boise where people are paying to bring in goats to manage the land. Before those homes were built, we were running sheep on that land.”

Little held grazing permits for the area, but sold them along with his flock to veteran sheep producer Frank Shirts. In addition to high-dollar homes, the area has become a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. They flock to the area’s trails for hiking and mountain biking and can certainly create headaches for grazing flocks. But the two groups are learning to coexist.

“The outdoor enthusiasts in the state tend to think the sheep are a good idea because they help keep that wildfire fuel from getting out of control,” Little says. “Everything is a balance, especially in my position as governor.”

The state’s sheep producers are fighting a number of high-priority issues, which include the loss of grazing permits due to conflicts with bighorn sheep and the reintroduction of wolves. The bighorn issue isn’t new, and it is one that has even put producers in the state out of business in years past.

“They way it was handled originally wasn’t right,” Little says. “But it’s done now. When something like this happens, you can do one of two things: you can say hell no and fight to the end of the mat and probably lose, or you can say yes with conditions. After all these years, I’m much smarter now about what those conditions need to be when it comes to bighorns, wolves or whatever the issue might be.”

Sheep producers in the state have adapted to the wolf population by keeping additional sheepherders with their flocks. Shirts, for example, stations two herders and guard dogs with each band of sheep. For the time being, wolves have proven to be a bigger problem for cattle producers as far as predation is concerned. However, the costs associated with extra herders is certainly as big an issue as the wolves for Idaho’s sheep producers.

“We definitely have to get the labor issue solved,” says Little. “These range operators need a solid, steady supply of good labor at a reasonable cost. It’s crucial to survival of the industry in Idaho.”

Nationally, survival of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, is a key issue for the American sheep industry. The station was taken off the government’s closure list in 2019, but continues to face lawsuits and funding shortfalls.

“The only reason the station came off the closure list was because of the work of Congressman Mike Simpson,” Little says. “The long-term research that has been done there is impossible to replicate. We can’t give that up because it’s in the ecosystem’s best interest to keep it going. Some of the research could be done elsewhere, but using sheep to manage that landscape is too valuable. So, I’m committed to working with USDA and the Agricultural Research Service to keep that part of it going. Now they’re talking about keeping sheep off of some of that land for a while, and I’m not a fan of that. We need to continue doing research and using sheep and goats as tools to manage these changing ecosystems.

“In my experience, if you have a wildfire, you have to stay off that land for a year or two. But in years three and four when it’s all weeds, you need a band of sheep out there. I can show you area after area in Idaho where they had a fire and kept livestock off of it for too long. It needed to be grazed because that creates better wildlife habitat, better watershed and prepares it for the next fire. We can’t give that up.”

While he’s too busy to run a ranch full-time these days, Little still enjoys heading to the family operations for events such as shearing and lambing with the sheep and branding for the cattle.

“I don’t get to sneak out there as much as I’d like to, but Teresa and our two boys make sure that the five grand kids get out to the ranch as often as they can. It’s a great way to grow up, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

EPA Clarifies Reporting of Animal Waste Emissions

United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a final rule in June amending the emergency release notification regulations under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The amendments clarify that reporting of air emissions from animal waste at farms is not required under EPCRA.

ASI worked on resolving this issue on behalf of American sheep producers and supports the subsequent changes.

The final rule comes as first responders across the county have repeatedly reminded the agency that community-specific protocols are determined between local responders and animal producers well in advance of emergencies. These strong partnerships provide a platform for resolving issues when they arise without the need for a national one-size-fits-all approach.

“This final rule provides clarity and certainty to the regulated community that animal waste emissions from farms do not need to be reported under EPCRA,” said Wheeler. “This action eliminates an onerous reporting requirement and allows emergency responders and farmers to focus on protecting the public and feeding the nation, not routine animal waste emissions.”

“The goal of emergency response officials and local emergency planning committees is to prepare communities for emergency threats related to hazardous chemical releases. Such emergency threats do not include ‘best guess’ reporting on day-to-day emissions on farms and animal operations,” said National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials President Tim Gablehouse. “The focus of LEPCs should be and is on chemical hazards that present meaningful risk of harm to community members and first responders. We look forward to working on enhanced coordination and cooperation between all community members to improve preparedness for hazardous chemical releases.”

The changes to emergency release reporting regulations reflect the existing relationship between EPCRA and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and provide consistency between the two environmental laws.

On March 23, 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Omnibus Bill). Title XI of the Omnibus Bill is entitled the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act. The FARM Act expressly exempts reporting of air emissions from animal waste (including decomposing animal waste) at a farm from CERCLA section 103. The FARM Act also provides definitions for the terms animal waste and farm. Because these types of releases are exempted under CERCLA, based on the release reporting criteria under EPCRA section 304, these types of releases are also exempt under EPCRA section 304.

On Oct. 30, 2018, Wheeler proposed the reporting exemption alongside Gablehouse and various state animal producer trade associations.

You can read the final rule here at

For more information, visit

You’ve Got a Month to Submit Entries in the ASI Photo Contest

We’re down to the final month of the 2019 ASI Photo Contest, and I wanted to take a moment to remind EVERYONE to send in their photos.

This is the fifth photo contest we’ve had since I joined ASI in May 2015, and it seems every year I hear similar comments from groups that appear to be under represented among our winners. Comments such as:

• Why didn’t someone from my state win?

• Why weren’t there any winning photos of (fill in the blank with your favorite sheep breed)?

• Why were there so many winners from Montana, or California or Utah, etc.?

• Why didn’t you choose any hair sheep photos?

And the answer to each of these questions is that we can only select winners from the photos we receive. For instance, we get few photos from producers in the southeast, so the odds of a photo from one of those states being selected among our winners is slim. Likewise, I can count on one hand the number of hair sheep photos we’ve received each of the past four years.

The answer is as simple as, “I can’t choose a photo that I didn’t receive.” You’ve got a month to sort through your existing photos or to go out and take new ones to send our way.

Keep in mind also, that most of the ASI office staff participates in voting on the winners. ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick and Deputy Director Rita Samuelson grew up on sheep ranches and certainly look at photos differently than some of the rest of the staff. There’s no way to distinguish exactly what each voter is looking for in a great photo. Wool Marketing Coordinator Christa Rochford, for example, will always vote for a dog photo over a non-dog photo. I’m afraid that the addition of a working dog category this year is going to make her head explode. Either that or she’ll have 12 first-place winners in that category.

I’d also like to make a few observations for those submitting photos:

• Send me the largest file size you can take with your camera or phone. If you look back at our October issue from the past four years – where we feature the winning entries – you’ll see that I want to run the winning photos big. After all, if it is a good enough photo to win, why would I want to run it the size of a postcard? Horizontal photos tend to get run as a two-page spread, while vertical photos will be run over a full page. My email can accept large attachments, so please don’t reduce photo sizes before submitting them. If you’re email doesn’t like large file sizes, sign up for a free gmail account and send it from there. If all else fails, go to your local Costco, Walmart, etc., have them print the photo and mail it to us.

• Taking photos from a distance is great if you’re trying to show off a landscape, but otherwise close-up photos work best. I want to be able to see expressions on the faces of the sheep, dogs and people featured in your photos. If your photo looks like one of those blurry images of Sasquatch that shows up on TV news every once in a while, then it’s probably not going to win an award.

• We receive an average of about 300 photos for each year’s contest, but only 15 photos are selected to place in the top three of each of our five categories. The odds are stacked against you when it comes to winning. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t like your photo. Win or not, there’s a chance we will use your photo in the Sheep Industry News or another publication down the road. For instance, since October of 2018, I’ve used five 2018 photo contest entries on the cover of the magazine (including this issue). Not a single one of those photos took home an award last year, but they are all great photos.

Remember that entries are due Aug. 1 this year. You can find official rules for the contest by visiting our website at Newsmedia_WeeklyNewsletter_2019_May_May102019_SendAsiYourSheepDogPhotosIn2019 or in the June issue of the Sheep Industry News.

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