ASI Wraps Up Annual Convention in San Diego

As it turns out, that rollercoaster ride American wool and sheep producers have been on the past couple of years was actually a Pacific Ocean wave that carried the American Sheep Industry Association into San Diego on Jan. 19-22 for its 157th Annual Convention: Where There’s A Will, There’s A Wave.

The convention theme was a nod to both the location and ASI’s desire to again meet in person after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the association to host a virtual meeting in 2021. Resiliency peppered conversations in San Diego after a COVID-induced wave took its best shot at sinking the industry only to then carry it to record-high lamb prices and steady increases for wool. The American sheep industry proved its buoyancy and sustainability in the process, turning an eye toward the role it can play in slowing (and even reducing) climate change in the years to come.

The well-orchestrated chorus condemning American animal agriculture for its role in global warming is deceptive, according to air quality extension specialist Frank Mitloehner of the University of California-Davis, aka, the Greenhouse Gas Guru. Rather than being the problem, animal agriculture is part of a climate solution.

Those who do not like animal agriculture use the global statistics of greenhouse gas emissions to attack animal agriculture in the United States, Mitloehner said, but production here is vastly different than that in developing countries. Greenhouse gas emissions from animal ag ring in at 3.9 percent in the United States, compared to the global rate of 14.5 percent. For comparison, transportation makes up 28 percent, electricity generation 27 percent and industry 22 percent of GHG emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Emissions from ruminants such as domestic sheep emit methane – a potent greenhouse gas that has a half-life of about 12 years. After that, the methane is broken down and converted back to carbon dioxide, and plants can again photosynthesize and fix the carbon back into cellulose. Grasses and other plants that are high in cellulose are then grazed by ruminants that digest the carbon and continue the biogenic carbon cycle.

But geologic carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels linger in the atmosphere for about 1,000 years before being redeposited back into geologic matter. So, emissions from driving a car today will remain in the atmosphere, warming the climate, while emissions from animals are short-lived and recycled back into the environment within about 12 years. Animal agriculture in the United States has reduced its emissions continually during the last 50 to 70 years, primarily through efficiency measures and feed additives, while continuing to feed an ever-growing human population.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Mitloehner said, noting that forestry and animal agriculture are the major societal sectors that can actually pull carbon from the air and store it – making these industries part of the climate solution, rather than major culprits.

Among those most interested in Mitleohner’s presentation was Michigan State University’s Dr. Richard Ehrhardt. He’s conducting similar research on behalf of the American Lamb Board to determine the greenhouse gas footprint of the American sheep industry. He reiterated Mitleohner’s message in pointing out that not all greenhouse gases are created equal when it comes to their contribution to climate change.

Unlike methane produced by small ruminants, the influence the 2022 ASI award winners have had on the American sheep industry will not be short-lived. Tim Turner, DVM, received the association’s highest honor as he was selected for the McClure Silver Ram Award, which was presented at the association’s award lunch on Friday. Turner heads ASI’s for-profit Sheep Venture Company, which led the financial charge to developing a new commercial wool lab at Texas A&M’s Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory. He’s also a past president of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association and owner of Southwestern Livestock Mineral in San Angelo, Texas.

The Wes Moser family of Iowa was selected for the Distinguished Producer Award for its efforts on three fronts: innovation, education and for sharing what it learned along the way with the rest of the industry. Long before award winners were notified in December 2021, Wes offered to stay home and take care of the family operation so the next generation could attend the annual convention. His son, Alex Moser, and daughter, Trixie Metzger, were on hand to accept the award. Idaho’s John and Diane Peavey were honored with the Industry Innovation Award for their efforts in starting the now 25-year tradition of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. In 2021, the festival unveiled a life-size monument entitled, The Good Shepherd, which features a sheepherder, horse, dog and eight sheep.

While the Camptender Award has been around for quite a while to recognize individuals in a field related to sheep production, Colorado Wool Growers Association Executive Director Bonnie Brown-Eddy became the first winner of the newly renamed Peter Orwick Camptender Award. An anonymous donor suggested renaming the award in honor of the ASI executive director and that it look for opportunities to recognize the valuable role played in the association by the state executives. In exchange, that individual provided a $1,000 prize to the winner for the next 25 years. In addition to overseeing day-to-day operations of her state association, Brown-Eddy has contributed to ASI’s dealings with bighorn and wild horse issues (among others) in the West.

Dr. Emmett (Keith) Inskeep was recognized posthumously with the Distinguished Service Award for the valuable role he played in educating several generations of students, as well as pushing for Federal Drug Administration approval of CIDR devices in aseasonal lambing. Dr. Scott Bowdridge of West Virginia University – one of Inskeep’s former students – accepted on his behalf. Dennis Sun and the Wyoming Livestock Roundup were honored with the Shepherd’s Voice Award for media covering the sheep industry. Wyoming producer Lynn Harlan accepted the award for the publication.

Also honored at a separate luncheon on Thursday was Wool Excellence Award winner Keith Padgett of Colorado. The now retired USDA market reporter was also an occasional wool buyer and organizer of the wool show and wool judging competition at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver.

Speaking of wool, ASI’s American Wool Assurance Program announced new additions to the voluntary, producer-driven certification process for American wool. A handful of wool growers have already been certified through Level 1 (Educated) of the program and can now move forward to reach Level II (Process Verified). More than a dozen extension personnel and others with ties to the industry from all across the country have completed the process to become AWA evaluators. A second-party evaluation is required for Level II certification. The program also announced the addition of Ranch Groups to the AWA program. These groups will allow producers to work together with other like-minded producers in a joint certification process. To learn more, visit AmericanWoolAssurance.org.

It’s become apparent in recent years that sheep producers must make decisions based on numbers and sound analysis, rather than on tradition or intuition. Taking on that task is Sheep Genetics USA. Board members Tom Boyer and Rusty Burgett told attendees at the convention’s special Genetics Forum – cosponsored by the ASI Genetic Stakeholders Committee, Sheep Genetics USA and the National Sheep Improvement Program – that the purpose of Sheep Genetics USA is to assist sheep producers in adopting genetic information, technology and research in their production systems.

The adoption of quantitative genetic selection provides infinite opportunities for improving the productivity of American sheep operations, Boyer said. From initial genetics research in Katahdins that revealed parasite resistance can be heritable, genomics research now examines thousands of DNA markers that can be responsible for genetic variation among animals. Producers can learn about single-gene traits, as well as more detailed information on traits as varied as feed efficiency, birthing ease and carcass weights that are controlled by multiple genes.

Sheep producers attending the afternoon session of the forum were able to hear progress reports from a panel involved in varied genotyping platforms. ASI Vice President Brad Boner compared traditional ways of selecting rams to a beauty contest, noting that using genetic data changes the selection process. If one animal consumes 3 pounds of feed for every pound of gain, and is compared to another that consumes 12 pounds to add 1 pound of weight, the economic impact of selecting feed-efficient animals is significant.

Panel discussions on video sales and working with ethnic market buyers dominated much of the Lamb Council’s time in San Diego. While neither is new to the industry, each offers growth opportunities (as well as some additional headaches) for sheep producers. Video sales really took off during the pandemic. “I don’t know if it’s right for everybody, but it’s another tool,” said Wyoming producer Vance Broadbent.

Montana producer Henry Hollenbeck – who also oversees video sales for Northern Livestock Video Auction – said its important for producers to deal with a video sales representative that can be trusted. “The reps have to take pride in representing lambs correctly for both the seller and the buyer,” he added.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jennifer Moffitt addressed the ASI Board of Directors at their Friday afternoon information session. A fifth-generation farmer from California, she was proud to visit with sheep producers in her home state. She announced development of a new USDA market mobile application that was “inspired by ASI’s own work to bring our market data to you in a much more modern way.”

Additionally, ASI’s Resource Management Council met to discuss a number of key priorities for the group. The Resource Council includes ASI’s Predator Management and Public Lands committees. The council heard an update on current Wildlife Services programming from Deputy Administrator Janet Bucknall and stressed the need to continue to use a comprehensive approach to predator control to support the future of the sheep industry.

Joining with the Public Lands Council, litigation and engagement in the rulemaking process was also highlighted by Caroline Lobdell, executive director of Western Resources Legal Center. Lobdell has been a critical partner in helping ASI and PLC craft comments on many issues facing public lands ranchers, and urged ranchers and affiliates to engage in the various opportunities for public comment – including on sage grouse revisions and the Waters of the United States rulemaking.

The benefits of grazing and opportunities for grazing as a treatment to enhance range landscapes carried out in the meeting with a presentation from the U.S. Forest Service on future planning around wildfire fuel reduction grazing projects and Dr. John Walker’s presentation on ASI’s Targeted Grazing Handbook supplement expected to be finished in 2023.

The Production, Education and Research Council hosted a panel discussion on adopting innovative practices to improve efficiency as producers Ryan Mahoney of California, Kalen Poe of Indiana and Bill Sparrow of North Carolina covered topics ranging from facility improvements to artificial insemination to electronic identification. The council also received updates on both the Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance Program and the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan. SSQA is currently being revamped by Colorado State University.

Dr. Danelle Bickett-Weddle hosted three training sessions on Wednesday for producers to learn what might happen in a foot and mouth disease outbreak and how to prepare to protect their flocks using SSWS Plan resources. Now with Veterinary Educational Services, Bickett-Weddle helped ASI develop the SSWS Plan and materials while working with Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health.

The Animal Health Committee – which falls under PERC – heard that sheep producers have about 18 months to work with their veterinarians to get plans in place for the use of antimicrobial drugs when the need arises in their flocks, according to University of California-Davis specialist Roselle Busch, DVM. When these drugs switch to prescription-only next year, producers will not be able to purchase the drugs at supply stores or online without a prescription, and the prescriptions will be served by licensed pharmacies.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration plans to transfer all medically important antimicrobial drugs for use in animals (both food-producing animals and companion animals) to availability only under the oversight of a licensed veterinarian. While the FDA has been phasing in the program in the last few years, remaining over-the-counter antimicrobials for animals will be transitioned to prescription-only by June 2023.

ASI’s Legislative Council focused on staying proactive on behalf of sheep producers on issues of tremendous importance for the industry. The meeting kicked off with a forum on the farm bill, featuring Senate Agriculture Committee professional staff from both the majority and minority parties to discuss producers’ priorities as the committees prepare to draft the next farm bill.

With updates on current issues, the committee set the priorities for the year ahead and discussed plans for the 2022 ASI Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., set for March 14-16.

Members of ASI’s Young Entrepreneurs heard the latest research from their own peer group, with grad students providing updates on the potential for use of blockchain technology for traceability and tracking transactions, development of a fine fleece index that will be incorporated into the National Sheep Improvement Program, research on the cost of excessive fat on lamb carcasses, nutritional management in aseasonal lambing systems, and progress on the national lamb quality audit. The group also discussed recent market trends that indicate lamb has steadily increased its market share in the last few years, with home-cooking driving much of the demand, rather than chefs in restaurants.

Sheep producers and industry volunteers also elected and re-elected members to the ASI Executive Board during the meeting. John Noh of Idaho was chosen to fill the Region VII spot previously held by Montana’s Randy Tunby – who was not eligible for re-election. Three other regional representatives were re-elected to second terms on the board, however. They included Laurie Hubbard (Penn.) of Region I, Anne Crider (Ill.) of Region II and Tammy Fisher (Texas) of Region V.

ASI’s officers were elected to a second year of their current leadership roles. Susan Shultz (Ohio) will continue to serve as president of ASI, while Brad Boner (Wyo.) and Ben Lehfeldt (Mont.) were also asked to continue in their roles as vice president and secretary/treasurer, respectively.

The week closed out on Saturday evening with the National Make It With Wool Banquet and Fashion Show: Sun, Sand and Fabulous Fashions. Champions crowned at the show included: Whitney Black of Utah, senior ambassador; Marissa Sanchez of Calif., junior ambassador; Kim Vogley of Wash, adult winner; and Maria Olsson of Wis., fashion/apparel design winner.

Next year’s ASI Annual Convention will be at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas, on Jan. 18-21, 2023.

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