I spent some time last week in Jackson attending the Tri-State Wool Growers Convention and anyone who attended had to come away with a renewed spirit of optimism.
First, the Wyoming Wool Growers is up and running full bore with some new board members and their new Executive Director Amy Wallop Hendrickson. Amy, if you haven’t heard, grew up in the Sheridan and Big Horn area, where her family still ranches. Amy has worked in Washington, D.C. for a number of years for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the American Horse Council for nearly 20 years. Her latest position was with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), where she worked with directors, staffs and commissioners of all 50 state Departments of Agriculture. She has had an extensive career in legislative and regulatory affairs, as well as with the agriculture industry. While with NASDA, she dealt with international trade, animal health and agriculture infrastructure, including ag labor. In other words, Amy hit the ground running and will surely be an asset to ag in Wyoming.
If there was a negative tone in Jackson, it was when people were discussing the foreign worker issues in the sheep industry, as the Department of Labor is always auditing the sheep producers. While other local businesses were taking away the workers, some say there are those who make a living raiding sheep producers for their help. They wait for the sheep producer to spend all the dollars to bring the foreign workers to the ranch and then find other jobs for the workers.
The bad part is that the Department of Labor does nothing, or very little, to bring the workers back where they have a contract with the sheep producer. In some areas, there is a underground network with the workers, and a cell phone helps them to stay ahead of the authorities, who are not doing much to begin with. It is just a big issue and no help can be seen from the authorities.
Lamb feeders and producers are pleased with the recent rise in prices and lower grain prices. The lamb market just shot up in the last month or so, and no one – not even the packers – ever saw it coming. But they are not complaining. After a really tough year and a half, good news is welcome by sheep producers. Lambs are just getting current in the feedlots, and everyone hopes that supply and prices don’t go wild in either direction.
USDA bought significant amounts of lamb in the last year, and those purchases have really helped eliminate the backlog of lambs in the feedlots and get lambs down to the kill size that everyone wants. Both the USDA and lamb producers benefited from this action.
On the wool side, markets have seen a positive shift, and prices look good for next spring. Researchers are finding new uses for wool, including wool shirts that one can wash at home without the necessity of drycleaning. I’m all for that, and we’re all for strong prices in lamb and wool.