Editor’s Note: Due to the Christmas holiday, there will be no ASI Weekly Newsletter next week. The American Sheep Industry Association office will be closed on Tuesday, Dec. 24, and Wednesday, Dec. 25. The next ASI Weekly will appear on Jan. 3. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
FY 2020 Appropriations Bill Headed to the White House
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a package of eight fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills, following the House of Representatives vote on Tuesday, marking final passage of the legislation and averting the possibility of a government shutdown pending the president’s signature.
Significantly for the American sheep industry, the bill contained many of its priorities, including funding for Wildlife Services damage management and methods development at or above fiscal year 2019 levels, funding for the Scrapie Eradication Program through U.S. Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at roughly 2019 levels, funding the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, and providing a delay on the implementation of Electronic Logging Devices for livestock haulers through Sept. 30, 2020.
“Overall, this bill reflects the priorities that ASI leaders discussed with their members of Congress during the spring trip to Washington, D.C.,” said ASI President Benny Cox. “We are especially thankful for the continued ELD delay, as we continue to work with the administration and Congress on a permanent solution to ensure access to livestock haulers and assure animal welfare for the livestock they transport.”
For the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, ASI and its USSES Working Group were able to work collaboratively with a number of stakeholders on the inclusion of language specific to the station that will ensure robust hiring to rebuild staff at the station to necessary operating levels. The appropriations bill included language that, “supports the collaborative efforts of the diverse stakeholders working toward ensuring the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station remains a valuable asset and focuses additional research opportunities on areas of mutual interest.” Further the bill notes that there a number of vacant positions across the Agricultural Research Service, and encourages ARS to fill these vacancies with permanent employees.
“Considering that less than a year ago the station was still on the USDA list for permanent closure,” said Cox, “this is a marked improvement attributable to ASI’s unwavering support for the lone USDA station strictly devoted to sheep research.”
For those across the Western states, the bill provides an additional $21 million to the Department of Interior to implement a comprehensive and detailed plan for an aggressive, non-lethal population control strategy for the overpopulation of wild horses and burros. While this appropriation falls short of the mark in alleviating the issue of overpopulation of wild horses and burros, it is a positive step toward reaching the set appropriate management levels. The bill also retained the rider prohibiting the listing of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and ASI’s long-term language on bighorn sheep, directing the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to work with the Agricultural Research Service to ensure an accurate scientific understanding of pathogen transmission.
On trade, the bill provides the full $255 million for Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation, as authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. As a result, MAP and FMD will receive no less than $200 million and $34.5 million respectively for FY 2020. Funding of $3.5 million for the Priority Trade Fund is also included as part of the overall $255 million level. The Trade Fund will provide additional funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development.
“The importance of trade promotion to the wool and sheep industry cannot be overstated,” said Cox. “As we’ve seen recently, in times of trade disruption, the development of new markets is critical. While we’re optimistic with the House passage of USMCA and the progress on negotiations with China, ASI will continue to work to find markets for all American wools and sheepskins.”
SheepCast Looks at Year-End Priorities
This week’s ASI SheepCast looks at our end of year priorities with passage of the appropriations bill and the first step toward final passage of United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
ASI Opposes USCIS Fee Increase
The American Sheep Industry Association filed comments this week with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services concerning a proposed increase in the fee for Form I-129H2A, which is required for foreign sheepherders and shearers entering the United States.
ASI opposes the fee increase and encourages producers to reach out to their congressional delegations to express concerns with the proposed increase.
“Guest workers in the form of foreign herders care for over one-third of the ewes and lambs in the United States. For generations, our industry has relied on guest workers in one form or another to undertake positions that cannot be filled domestically,” read the comments. “Our industry model is largely built around access to highly specific skills like range herding and sheep shearing. Most sheep production enterprises are small family owned businesses, operated by the owner often with the assistance of one or two guest herders. Some of these family businesses undertake the task of securing guest workers and maintaining the records themselves while the majority rely on agencies like Mountain Plains Agricultural Service or Western Range Association to handle those tasks for them.
“Therefore, the American Sheep Industry Association not only raises unique concerns with this proposed increase, but we also echo the comments expressed by these agencies. Particularly important is that as small family businesses, the vast majority of the Form I-29H2A with named beneficiaries submitted by our industry include less than five individuals (note that Mountain Plains Agricultural Service which accounts for nearly half of our industry’s applications puts the number of forms with under five individuals at 92 percent, and none with over 10). The impact of this proposed change would be to increase the fee per form from $460 to $860, an indiscriminate increase of over 85 percent. For this form, the increase vastly exceeds the agency’s weighted average of 21 percent and comes on the heels of a prior increase in 2016. Over this same period general inflation has been 1 to 2.5 percent, yet the input prices for agricultural products have gone up, pushing farm gate receipts to plateau following the significant drop in 2015.”
MWGA Hiring Executive Secretary
The Montana Wool Growers Association is now hiring for the position of executive secretary. The deadline for submission is Jan. 17, 2020.
The main functions of the position are to keep the board informed of finances and potential concerns, keep membership updated and educated through four issues of the magazine and electronic outlets, conduct a successful Montana Ram and Ewe Sale annually in Miles City, Mont., plan and organize the annual convention in Billings, Mont., assist the Montana Lamb Jam planning committee with administrative duties, work cooperatively with Montana State University and the American Sheep Industry Association, and communicate with attorney Jim Brown on association policy and board decisions.
The successful candidate will be a self-starter and demonstrate excellence in communication skills and integrity. Previous experience in the sheep industry is preferred, but not a requirement. The association is in good condition financially and currently enjoys good standing in Montana’s agricultural community.
The timeline for application is as follows: Jan. 17, 2020, deadline for applications; Feb. 5-6, interviews in Lewistown, Mont.; Feb. 10-12, reference checks; Feb. 12-14, job offered. Resume and cover letter should be sent as pdf via email by Jan. 17 to Jesse Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
USDA Announces American Lamb Board Appointments
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday the appointment of four industry representatives to serve three-year terms on the American Lamb Board. Both producer members were nominated by the American Sheep Industry Association. Newly appointed board members are:
- Jeff Ebert, Saint George, Kan., representing producers with 100 head of lambs or less
- Gary Visintainer, Craig, Colo., representing producers with 500 head of lambs or more
- Donald Hawk, Danville, Ohio, representing lamb feeders
- Travis Anderson, Brownsville, Ore., representing first-handlers
Ebert raises mostly registered sheep of four different breeds. He is currently active in the American Hampshire Sheep Association. His family sells commercial rams and club lambs; in fact, they have sold sheep into more than 30 states and three foreign countries.
Visintainer is a third-generation rancher from western Colorado, who was born and raised in the sheep business. His grandfather emigrated from Austria in the early 1900s, building and developing the ranch from the 1920s into the 1940s. Visintainer has been a partner in the operation since the 1970s. The Visintainers range flock of Columbia-type ewes graze in the desert on Bureau of Land Management allotments during the winter, while the rest of the year is spent in the mountains on private land or leased state land. Visintainer earned both a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and animal science bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University. As time allows, he continues his veterinary work at a large-animal clinic.
Hawk has been farming for 53 years. In addition to feeding lambs, he raises corn and soybeans. Hawk has served as an officer of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association Board of Directors and is currently a board member of the National Lamb Feeders Association. His hometown is about halfway between Akron and Columbus, Ohio.
Anderson is a fifth-generation sheep producer. He manages the harvest and processing facility for Anderson Ranches Lamb, an integrated ranch and processing operation that supplies premium grass-fed, Oregon lamb to top steakhouses and restaurants from Seattle to New York. The plant was built in 2013 to support the industry’s need for more harvest and fabrication options while reducing the environmental impact and animal stress by building a local facility. Travis’ father, Reed, is a past ALB director and former member of the American Sheep Industry Association Executive Board.
The American Lamb Checkoff established by ASI in 2002 under the landmark 1999 federal trade case for competitiveness in the lamb market has won overwhelming support in two national referendums and continues to seek market advantage for American lamb.
Australian Wool Market Surges Into Christmas Break
The Australian wool market closed out a volatile 2019 calendar year with strong gains this week, adding to the modest rises recorded during the last sale. The AWEX Eastern Market Indicator added 55 cents for the series and closed the year at 1,558 Australian cents. The EMI is now 304 cents lower than this time last year – the largest calendar year fall since 2003.
This week, the market took its lead from the previous week – when the EMI crept 11 cents higher. A looming three-week auction recess during Christmas, as well as a reduction in volumes this week – 7,700 bales fewer than last sale and well short of the original estimate – might have contributed to buyers pushing hard to fill orders from the opening hammer. An unusual Tuesday-Wednesday rostering (due to Christmas holiday logistics) did little to dampen enthusiasm and merino fleece types jumped 50 to 60 cents clean on the opening day.
Wednesday was not quite as buoyant – particularly in Fremantle – however all three selling centers still recorded increases and the Micron Price Guides generally closed 60 to 90 cents higher for the week. Merino skirtings tracked a similar path, also closing as much as 90 cents dearer during the two days. Crossbreds made equal gains each day to finish 60 cents higher for the series.
Merino cardings had mixed results depending on the selling center, but all three auctions managed to eke out gains on the final day to go into the recess on a positive note. Auctions will resume in the week of Jan. 13, 2020, after the annual three-week Christmas recess.
Deadline Extended for Wool Press Grants
The deadline to apply for the American Sheep Industry Association’s $5,000 Wool Press Grant Program – now in its second year – has been extended until Jan. 15. Applications already submitted will be reviewed and awarded this month. Applications submitted during the extended application period will be reviewed and awarded in late January.
ASI is looking to assist five shearers, warehouses or individuals with the purchase of a wool press in 2020. The grant recipients will cover the bulk of the costs associated with their purchase, but ASI seeks to assist as much as possible with the grant.
As freight costs are a significant expense to the American wool industry, the ASI Wool Council developed the program to incentivize the domestic production and purchase of wool presses. This project aims to encourage the use of presses that can be maintained and repaired in the United States, produce bales that are a standard size and emphasize the importance of proper wool bale weights to producers, shearers, warehousemen, pools and co-ops.
While assisting shearers and others directly, the program supports American sheep producers by allowing them to generate better returns on their wool clips. Producers will also benefit as the new presses will replace older presses that are prone to delay-causing breakdowns.
Recipients of the baler grants in the program’s first year ranged from small to large operations, and applications are once again encouraged from anyone within the American wool industry.
Grant recipients will be required to submit a final report – including photos or videos – and documentation that the baler meets all program requirements. Requirements include: the baler must be made in the United States, it must produce an average bale weight of between 400 and 500 pounds, produce a uniform bale size of 32 inches by 52 inches, and come equipped with all necessary safety features.
- PRODUCER EDUCATION