American sheep industry succeeds legislatively including Farm BillWritten by Jennifer Womack
ASI’s Orwick, Wyo’s Reece highlight successes, efforts
Casper – Legislatively speaking it’s been a good year for the American sheep industry with several beneficial items included in the 2007 Farm Bill. At the Wyoming level, continued funding of the state’s predator boards coupled with the success of groups like the Animal Damage Management Board adds to that success.
The late September implementation of Country of Origin Labeling brings to fruition ASI policy dating back to 1991 when they supported the labeling of foreign lamb in U.S. meat cases. “We initiated the discussion with Congress in the 1990s and here we are a dozen years down the road and seeing it implemented,” says American Sheep Industry Association Executive Director Peter Orwick, “It’s something encouraging for us.”
“The Mountain States Lamb Cooperative,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece, “is proving that the stronger the connection between producer and consumer the more the consumer wants to buy that product.”
Aspects of the farm bill that will allow the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat brought to life yet another long-held ASI goal. “We were the first on board to support this multi-year legislation,” says Orwick. “It’s a brand new program and it will take the department a bit longer to write the regulations than it did on COOL.”
For Reece it’s one of the biggest measures put forth in the new farm bill. “Federal inspection has a role and its consumer protection,” he says, “but it’s moved beyond that point to a restraint of trade. I think this has the potential, depending on how USDA writes the rules and regulations, to break wide open and result in increased profits to producers.”
Also approved in the 2007 Farm Bill was the Sheep Improvement Center, a group that Orwick says will be looking at business strengths and weaknesses in the sheep industry and where programs are needed. “We’ll be able to provide sheep industry nominees this fall,” he says of a program that will compliment the efforts of ASI’s legislative roles and the American Lamb Board’s promotional efforts.
Beyond the Farm Bill, Orwick says ASI is working with Senators and Congressmen and women from across the Intermountain West to stop the regionalization of Argentina as it pertains to Foot and Mouth Disease. “That’s probably been the issue we’ve worked the hardest on so far this summer,” says Orwick of the proposal that would allow live sheep, lamb products and beef products from that area to enter the U.S. “We don’t want this particular proposal to go forward,” says Orwick, “and we’ll continue to keep the pressure on through the fall and as we go into next year.” They were able to help put in place legislation that prohibits USDA from spending any dollars to forward this effort. “We think that sent a pretty strong message,” says Orwick.
The WWGA has joined ASI in its efforts. “We’re opposed to opening the border to any country where there’s active Foot and Mouth Disease,” says Reece. “An FMD outbreak in this country would have devastating consequences. This is one disease we need to be totally on guard about. I’m pretty sure if we had FMD that no matter how many zones we created Argentina wouldn’t take our livestock.”
ASI was also successful in securing a Livestock Risk Protection insurance option for some of the nation’s sheep ranchers, including those in Wyoming. Of about three million lambs slaughtered last year, Orwick says around 700,000 of them carried the insurance in the first year of an ongoing pilot project. “A lot of producers and feeders put on all the lambs they possibly could,” says Orwick. “It gives producers a chance to manage their risk. If the wheels come off of the lamb market, it’s a way for you and your banker to manage that risk. You can cover the basics and come back another year.”
Closer to home the sheep industry has also seen many recent victories. For Reece success began in 1999 with creation of the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board. “It has brought together entities that have traditionally been at each others’ throats,” he says of the group comprised of sportsmen, ranchers, wildlife managers and more. “We brought people together and gave them responsibility for a commonly shared problem.”
That effort was forwarded again three years ago with approval of funds for Wyoming’s predatory animal boards. With many board on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, Reece says they’ve seen been able to carry out projects mutually beneficial to livestock and wildlife. Reece says it’s also significantly reduced his industry’s losses to predators.