ASI Convention: Sheep industry meets in Texas
San Antonio, Texas – Wyoming producers joined hundreds of fellow sheep industry re presentatives at the 2013 American Sheep Industry (ASI) Association Annual Convention to discuss the pressing issues affecting the industry today.
“Attendance was above what they had they had last year,” comments Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Peter John Camino. “The weather was beautiful, and lots of topics were discussed.”
“The convention had a really good turnout,” adds Mountain States Lamb Cooperative Board Vice Chairman Brad Boner, who also attended the event. “There were some lively discussions and most of it was pretty positive.”
Camino and Boner marked labor, drought and markets as top issues for the industry that were discussed with producers nationwide during the event.
“One of the main concerns at the meeting was the H-2A program, which helps bring in shepherds,” explains Camino. “ASI has put together a committee and is in the process of investigating the wages of sheepherders through the Labor Department.”
He continues that sheepherders are brought in from around the world to address labor shortages seen in the sheep industry. The wages of the temporary workers have begun to change and increase across the western United States to levels that are difficult to pay.
“Herders rates went from $750 to $1,400 in three states,” he adds. “There have been other places that have gone higher.”
While Wyoming and Idaho maintain current compensation rates, Camino notes that increases will likely be seen in the near future.
“As these rates continue to increase, it is just another tool that is being used to get rid of sheepmen,” comments Camino. “We can’t afford those wages.”
In addition, producers are responsible for providing healthcare and insurance to their herders under the Affordable Care Act. While the level of insurance is unclear, increased costs are certain.
“They keep throwing increases at us,” adds Camino of costs. “One producer said that, with all the new regulations, it would increase his costs by $80,000. There isn’t that much money in the markets.”
Drought and feed
Aside from labor concerns affecting sheep producers, Camino notes that the weather and feed situation is a huge concern.
“Everyone across the country is really dry,” he says, “and we are all out of hay.”
Not only are hay stocks affected by drought, corn harvests in 2012 were lower than many hoped for, leading to high costs in the feed yard.
“The hay situation is really critical,” Camino continues. “If we don’t grow some grass and get some moisture, I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Boner mentions that, from a production perspective, feed costs will continue to be a top concern.
“We will still focus on the ever-raising costs of production going through 2013,” he explains. “It costs more to be in business now than it did even a year ago.”
Though the market has stabilized now, the drought and feed concerns directly impact industry prices and what markets will look like as we continue through 2013, as well.
“The lamb market is starting to climb up,” says Camino, “but it will depend on corn and hay.”
Because of the high cost of gain, Camino explains that it isn’t economically or financially feasible to buy high-priced feeder lambs.
Boner adds that there was a lot of time spent at the convention discussing the market situation in 2012 and the disaster that happened in the industry last year.
“We hit the bottom and are starting to climb out of it now,” adds Boner, “but it will take some time to rebuild the demand that was damaged – it won’t happen overnight.”
At the end of the day, Boner notes that he hopes the volatility of the markets will stabilize, which will in turn stabilize markets further.
“Most of the topics that we talked about dealt with lamb markets and what it looks like going forward,” he continues. “We will continue to try to provide a good quality, affordable product for our customers.”
With the sheep industry’s recent turmoil on the mind of everyone, stability and growth in sheep markets is something many hope to see going forward.
“We are getting to a critical point in the sheep industry,” comments Camino. “Numbers are so low that we can’t stand to lose very many more producers.”
MSLC sees good year in 2013
“The Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC) had a decent year in 2013,” comments MSLC Board Vice Chairman Brad Boner. “We harvested more lambs that we have ever done in our history.”
Boner also notes that while the industry has seen difficult times recently, MSLC continues to push forward and improve the state of the industry and the available product.
“We continue to work forward in this business,” he adds. “We work everyday to try to produce a good quality product.”
Sheep industry in court
The sheep industry across the United States is also facing several cases in courts across the West, particularly those involving Bighorn sheep and wolves.
“We are part of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance lawsuit dealing with Bighorn Sheep,” comments Mountain States Lamb Cooperative Board Vice Chairman Brad Boner.
Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Peter John Camino additionally mentioned suits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species List as being important to the sheep industry.
“These are big topics in western states,” adds Boner, noting that the outcome of each case will greatly impact the future of the sheep industry.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.