Peter Orwick optimistic about sheep industry
Restocking the U.S. sheep industry is the goal of the 2 Plus 2 Program, a national initiative launched by the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), backed by every major lamb and wool company in the U.S., according to Peter Orwick, ASI executive director.
“The sheep industry is being driven by the increase and demand for lamb around the world,” Orwick said. “All the major metropolitan cities here in the U.S. have immigrants and ethnic communities that prefer lamb. Most folks would be surprised to know that one out of every three lambs in this country goes into this smaller, non-traditional marketing channel such as farmers markets. In addition to buying locally, every religious holiday is huge for us with spikes for lamb demand and prices. A lot of folks think that sheep numbers have declined, but our real focus with the 2 Plus 2 Program is to meet the growing demand for lamb, not increase our flock size.”
The 2 Plus 2 Program calls on sheep producers, both large and small, to help accomplish the goal of growing the nation’s flock. ASI has come up with a formula to address these shortages within just a few years, it’s called “Let’s Grow with twoPLUS.” The program has three goals. The first is to encourage producers to increase the size of their operation by two ewes per flock or by two ewes per 100 by 2014. Second, ASI encourages sheep producers to increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year. The third and final goal is to increase the harvested lamb crop by 2 percent – taking it from 108 percent to 110 percent
“We are excited about the sheep industry right now,” said Orwick. “This past winter, Super Walmart announced that 100 percent of the lamb sold in its stores will be homegrown here in the U.S. Walmart is the largest grocer in America; meanwhile, the second-largest grocer, Kroger, has always sold 100 percent American lamb. In fact, this winter, Kroger even added their private select label to the lamb products, as well. It’s pretty incredible that two of the biggest grocers in America are supporting and endorsing our product. This, along with the ever-growing presence of buyers who are supplying these small markets, and we have a growing demand for lamb.”
Therein lies the opportunity for producers, and Orwick hopes established ranchers will increase their flocks, while new ranchers or cattle producers might consider adding sheep to their business plan.
“We have to have everybody jump in and keep the demand fulfilled to keep lamb on the shelves and in restaurants,” Orwick urged. “Lamb prices are truly being driven, not by the export market, but by domestic growth.”
In addition to meat, the wool industry continues to grow in the U.S. with the U.S. military purchasing 20 percent of the U.S. wool supply each year.
“The U.S. military is our number-one customer because our wool garments are fire-resistant, which protects our servicemen from burns and wounds in a war zone,” explained Orwick. “We have invested $1.5 million into technology to make wool machine washable. We found equipment in Italy and set it up commercially last February. The usage of that machinery today is beyond even our projections. The military and much of the commercial textile industry is taking advantage of our super-wash technology for washable wool. It saves them from having to ship things overseas to be cleaned. Wool is now wear-and-wash.”
Orwick referenced Larry Prager, manager of the Center of the National Wool, who said, “Within just a few months, the money invested in this technology has already been paid back to U.S. ranchers in the form of higher prices.”
Since 2002, the sheep industry has enjoyed a steady climb in lamb prices.
“The lamb prices we see today are absolutely the best we have seen in this generation,” said Orwick. “Producers should view the lamb market as an incentive to increase their size and numbers, become more efficient, shear more ewes and get more lambs on the shipping truck. Current growers can help us lift that demand, but they have to have the confidence and enthusiasm to raise more sheep. The other part is attracting more folks who have buildings and pastures available who are looking for something to do. There is a lot less capital to get into the sheep business versus the cattle business. Right now, we have instances where you can buy ewes and pay off your note within a year. The long-term trend is very positive. We simply have not seen the volatility that other industries have seen in the last decade. Ranchers have great competition for their lambs, and the bottom line is, we need more producers to help us meet that growing demand.”
For more information on the 2 Plus 2 Program, visit http://www.growourflock.org. F
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