Sheep producers gather in Reno | TSLN.com

Sheep producers gather in Reno

The American Sheep Industry Association celebrated its 150th anniversary during the organization's annual convention in Reno, Nev., Jan. 28-31. Registration numbers reached a 15-year high, as sheep producers from across the country came together to acknowledge the accomplishments of the oldest national livestock association in the United States.

"Stronger lamb and wool markets in conjunction with the 150th festivities offered a strong foundation for record attendance at this year's meeting," said Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "A record fundraising target was also achieved by our members."

Adding to the excitement of the organization's longevity, the Sheep and Goats report released during the meeting recounted that the sheep and lamb inventory is up 1 percent and the lamb crop is up 2 percent from the previous year. The last National Agricultural Statistics Service report to show an increase in sheep numbers occurred in 2006.

"The industry showed its commitment to increase sheep numbers when we rolled out the Let's Grow Campaign nearly four years ago," said Mike Corn, New Mexico producer and chair of the Let's Grow Committee. "This is an exciting time as we are now beginning to see some of the results of this focused program."

The Let's Grow Committee continued to make headlines with the introduction of Alan Culham, national coordinator for the Grow Our Flock Program. The $500,000 annual budget will be utilized to fund projects at the local, state and national level to assist in supporting networks of commercial sheep producers. Application forms are in development to be available for consideration of funding this spring.

With a parallel goal of strengthening the American industry and increasing lamb demand, the Lamb Industry Roadmap committees met to discuss their accomplishments of the last year and to set continuing goals for the next year. Five committees reported on lamb carcass instrument grading, value based marketing, a lamb quality audit and an assessment of the National Sheep Industry Improvement Program.

Recommended Stories For You

Additional evidence of the excitement in the industry was seeing more than 40 young entrepreneurs from 12 states attend the sessions. Participating in age-specific meetings as well as in the general sessions, these participants brought with them an energy level that could be felt throughout the event.

"We need to connect, engage and protect," said Kay Johnson Smith, executive director of the Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA), to meeting attendees. "I would encourage each of you to proactively communicate with consumers by putting a face on your business and on agriculture in general. Share your story through social media, video, blogging or community involvement."

Johnson Smith encouraged all producers to take a critical look at their operations and policies to identify vulnerabilities. Next, find solutions to animal handling concerns and train all employees on the policies and on proper handling procedures. Holding employees accountable for their actions and proactively preparing for a crisis are steps that can be taken now to avert a disaster in the future.

The ASI Board of Directors were reassured by Edward Avalos, under secretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs, that the long anticipated scrapie rule would indeed be finalized in 2015. The proposed rule will be published for public comment with the purpose to amend the scrapie eradication components in the Code of Federal Regulations to, among several things, make identification requirements more uniform and bring certain categories of goat identification in line with sheep requirements.

Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei shared his no-holds-barred comments with the board as he talked about some of the challenges that face the sheep industry in his state and around the country. From the Endangered Species Act and the bighorn sheep conflict to waters of the United States rule, Amodei expressed his dedication to supporting farmers and ranchers.

With a majority of the industries' resources being funneled into the bighorn sheep issue, reports covering the current research, progress with the litigation and legislative action were presented to attendees. This is an issue that can directly impact from 7 to 23 percent of the domestic sheep industry while indirectly impacting the entire industry.

"The trade agreements currently being negotiated are the most contentious for the wool textile industry since the North American Free Trade Agreement," said Ashley Bullock, Burlington Worldwide. "It will be important that the United States not cave to the demands of the other countries involved in order to protect the wool textile industry in this country."

Bullock continued by saying that these agreements will hurt all domestic wool fabric producers and will likely challenge the Berry Amendment. This could lead to the loss of U.S. jobs at a time when there has been a resurgence to bring more wool textile processing back to the United States.

"The buzz heard in the hallways was a result of a passion for the industry, increased attendance and the enthusiasm brought about by the growth in the industry," said Clint Krebs, ASI president. "Celebrating our 150th anniversary in conjunction with this convention has allowed for a blend in the meetings of new programs and recognition of our past while looking to the future."

The viability of the association was evident by the competitive election for offices. Serving as ASI officers for the next two years are President Burton Pfliger (N.D.), Vice-President Mike Corn (N.M.) and Secretary/Treasurer Benny Cox (Texas).

ASI is a national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 79,000 sheep producers.

–American Sheep Industry