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American lamb industry recovering from COVID-19

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

American Sheep Industry (ASI) Executive Director Peter Orwick says American lamb producers have recently seen some significant recovery from damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both on the domestic front and on lamb exports, sheep producers have been on a roller coaster during 2020. 

Domestic markets

“When the pandemic hit in March and restaurants were shut down, we lost 50 percent of the customer base for American lamb,” Orwick explains. “The reaction in the lamb market was immediate and devastating.”

“We backed up 100,000 lambs in a heartbeat and the price fell by a full 50 percent on the lamb side,” he continues. “But, today, after two months of sales, we are selling live lambs at the prices of last year. This was a very pleasant surprise, and we are in a much better situation on lamb than what any of us expected.” 

Domestically, American lamb was disrupted by both COVID-19 and the closure of Mountain States Rosen. 

“We lost one of our major lamb plants to bankruptcy,” says Orwick. “We lost a lot of our price reporting. We are slowly gaining some of the reporting back. We have a new state-of-the-art plant, which just opened in Colorado, and we have another plant coming online this winter in San Angelo, Texas.” 

Orwick calls this a very fortunate set of circumstances for American lamb producers, with fingers crossed price reporting will return to where producers need it. 

Lamb exports

The pandemic also brought export impacts into the equation as the key export markets for American lamb in 2019 included Mexico, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Canada, which were heavily impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns, according to the American Lamb Board (ALB) and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). 

ALB Chairman Gwen Kitzan says, “We can’t sell into the export market what we are unable to produce and process. This year has brought challenges to all sectors of the American lamb industry never seen before.” 

Limited foodservice options and more meals at home around the world are a result of the ongoing pandemic. The lamb industry sees a bright spot as USMEF has devoted part of the ALB funding to reach consumers directly. 

“USMEF shifted ALB promotional funds in Japan from fine dining and chef education to retail,” reports a news release from ALB. “USMEF partnered with a Japanese retailer to launch new American lamb products, including boneless shoulders and steaks in the retailer’s 10 stores.” 

A similar situation is unfolding in Taiwan, where many people prefer dining out. 

“Dine-in services are still expected to rebound because of this strong preference,” shares ALB. “USMEF hosts a Facebook page dedicated to educating Taiwan consumers about American lamb cuts and cooking techniques and collaborates with restaurant partners to feature lamb recipes.” 

The purpose of USMEF’s efforts in Japan and Taiwan are to build interest in American lamb as a top-tier product deserving high regard at retail and on restaurant menus. 

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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