Sheep industry: ASI provides update during WWGA summer meeting
Wright – American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) Vice President Brad Boner presented a sheep industry update with Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) members during their annual summer meeting on July 14.
ASI is the national trade association for the U.S. sheep industry, representing 100,000 lamb and wool producers in 44 of the 50 states, and accounts for an economic impact in excess of $2.7 billion to the U.S. economy, noted Boner. ASI executive board members are elected from eight separate regions of the U.S. Funding is derived from membership dues and wool trust funds as legislated in the farm bill.
“ASI is responsible for policy development and lobbying on behalf of the entire American sheep industry,” said Boner. “It really helps ASI on the policy and government side to have representation throughout the whole U.S. when we are lobbying for the sheep industry.”
ASI is also responsible for the promotion and research of American wool throughout the world, he added.
As a separate entity, the American Lamb Board’s (ALB) goal is to develop and expand markets for lamb and lamb products along with research and information about American lamb. Under this program, producers, seedstock producers and feeders pay an assessment of $0.007 per pound and first handlers pay 42 cents per pound.
These assessments, totaling roughly $2.5 million annually, fund the ALB. The ALB receives its revenue from the checkoff and its board is appointed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) based on recommendations from stakeholders such as ASI.
In 2020-2021, ASI was instrumental in the development and distribution of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments from the USDA to sheep producers who faced market disruptions due to COVID-19.
“It was a big deal because, up until then, USDA had no mechanisms for direct payments to sheep producers because there was no sheep program offering direct payments. They had to develop a method to get direct payments to sheep producers,” said Boner. “ASI was instrumental in getting this done.”
Roughly $160 million was paid out to the sheep industry and “without those CFAP payments, there was going to be a lot of industry producers and infrastructure that wouldn’t have survived the COVID-19 pandemic,” Boner mentioned.
The nation’s lamb market is heavily influenced by imported lamb, particularly from Australia and New Zealand, making up over 50 percent of total lamb sales in the U.S. Wool trade remains a challenge as the industry struggles to access potential key markets in China. In 2018, the Trump administration issued tariffs resulting in a trade war with China, shared Boner.
“China typically gets about 60 percent of the wool crop in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s by far our biggest market, so this had an impact on demand for U.S. wool.”
ASI worked diligently to expand export markets along with updating USDA’s wool loan marketing program through their loan deficiency payments. Through this program, producers can choose to receive an “on-the-spot” payment for their wool when current market prices are lower than expected. As of July 12, producers can receive a loan deficiency payment of 40 cents (per pound grease) for ungraded wool.
“This was a great help for producers who struggled to market their wool, especially for coarser wools, which was what the Chinese market took a lot of,” explained Boner.
Mandatory price reporting
Ensuring there is not a lapse in the Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting (LMR) is critical to the U.S. sheep industry. Unfortunately, LMR has not adjusted to changes in the lamb industry, Boner noted.
In 2011, there were 13 reports under mandatory price reporting for lamb. Currently, there are only five reports available, all of which are national reports released on a weekly basis.
Of these five reports, the amount of information available in the slaughter lamb report has diminished over the years, resulting in USDA’s withdrawal of Livestock Risk Protection for Lambs (LRP-Lamb), Boner explained.
This program was a federal lamb price insurance product and the only risk protection product available to lamb producers.
“Market transparency is a huge issue, and we continue to work with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to try to figure out a different confidentiality parameter so we can get more robust reporting and transparency in the marketplace,” said Boner. “It’s been an uphill battle we continue to fight. The beef and pork industries are actually having the same conversation – everyone is having the same issue with the confidentiality requirements the USDA has put in place.”
“Until we can get the price reporting piece of this figured out, the odds of us getting another LRP-Lamb product out there are pretty slim,” he added.
Challenges continue to impact the export of lamb pelts. Prior to the implementation of tariffs, 80 percent of U.S. sheep skins were sent to China. ASI continues to work on building new customers in order to strengthen the international marketing of wool through USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Program funding.
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. ASI has been looking at what a FMD outbreak would mean for animal and human welfare, the environment and economy. The sheep industry should be aware of the risks associated with a FMD outbreak, Boner said.
ASI currently offers a FMD pocket guide to assist producers in vesicular disease surveillance and illustrates the progression of FMD lesions. The pocket guide is one component of a cooperative agreement from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service with ASI for the development of ASI’s Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan.
“It’s great information for everybody and something for all of us to think about in each of our operations. It’s a very detailed plan on how we would handle commerce in the case of a FMD outbreak,” Boner said.
Challenges and initiatives
Boner highlighted challenges and initiatives ASI has worked on over the past year. The Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance program provides information for sheep producers to help generate safe, high-quality products.
The program uses research and education to improve management practices to maximize consumer confidence in sheep products, according to their webpage. An updated program is set to be released this fall.
In addition, ASI is lobying for fair market labeling, using the word meat for real meat products, not plant-based products. Earlier this year, Black Sheep Foods launched the first plant-based lamb product in the U.S.
“We really need to challenge these plant-based products on labeling this stuff as lamb, because it’s not lamb, it’s a plant,” said Boner. “This issue is not going away anytime soon; it’s going to continue to be on our plate and we need to continue to make our case to USDA. If we can’t make progress there, we need to think about other avenues to deal with this – this is potentially a big deal.”
Historically, the U.S. sheep industry has had one wool testing lab in the U.S. – the Yocom-McColl Testing Laboratories in Denver, Colo. With the closing of Yocom-McColl, ASI has been instrumental in helping to open the Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory in partnership with Texas A&M.
“We felt pretty strongly we needed to have a wool testing lab in the U.S., and so ASI worked with wool processors and wool buyers to best figure out how to handle this,” said Boner. “We’re hopeful the 2023 wool clip samples will be processed here in the U.S. via the new lab.”
Other issues impacting the sheep industry include state and federal wage regulations for H-2A temporary agricultural workers who serve as sheepherders and shearers, as well as access to animal medications and predation.
“ASI has faced challenges these past years, related and unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic,” concluded Boner. “We have emerged as a stronger industry and with minor policy adjustments, the sheep industry is poised for exponential growth.”
For more information, visit sheepusa.org.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.