America’s sheep industry - Efforts encourage congress to support lamb, wool in U.S. legislationWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Casper – At this year’s Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Mid-Year Meeting on Aug. 4, American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) Executive Director Peter Orwick shared an update on some of the biggest issues facing the industry.
To begin, Orwick noted the high inventory of frozen lamb in the United States.
“As domestic lamb got backed up in the freezers, the country got behind on slaughter, so the old crop is left hanging over the market,” he explained.
To remedy the situation, USDA purchased nearly 480,000 pounds of bone-in and boneless leg product from the two primary lamb companies in the U.S. to send to food banks.
“The program helps to move product. It’s funded by tariffs on imported food, and USDA will spend that money every year,” Orwick said.
Spending is dispersed throughout various industries, depending on which food products are in surplus each year.
“It’s a good way for USDA to help out the lamb industry, and on another front, it’s also about international trade,” he added.
One hot topic related to international trade that Orwick highlighted is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could impact commodity inventories. He pointed out that TPP mostly addresses countries with which the U.S. already has trade agreements.
“From the sheep industry standpoint, there is very little benefit to TPP because we are not going to send lamb to Australia or New Zealand, although we do send wool occasionally,” he stated.
Conversely, since there are no important trade protections currently in place for the lamb industry, Orwick added, “We are not giving anything up. We don’t have to fight like the other industries do to keep what they have.”
In other trade issues, Orwick expressed his hopes for Japan to reopen the market for American lamb.
“It gives companies an opportunity if they are sending prime beef into export markets. They can put boxes of prime and choice lamb on the same shipment,” he noted. “It gives them an opportunity to sell American racks in the best restaurants in the world instead of trying to sell it all in the U.S. markets.”
While trade is always a concern for the sheep industry, Orwick explained that all dues paid to ASI go toward legislative efforts in Washington, D.C. to support the sheep industry.
“Wyoming and its delegation have been involved with every legislative fight, and true champions have come out of this state on behalf of the sheep industry,” he added.
This fall, one of the important legislative issues for the industry will be the final rule from the department of labor concerning the H-2A program.
“We are not going to see immediate language from Congress addressing H-2A because they are not going to have it on the spending bill until Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Orwick said.
ASI will focus its efforts on encouraging Congress to work toward a common sense and sustainable approach.
“There are a number of things in the proposed rule that make the program burdensome for producers to utilize,” he continued.
Language addressing wage increases as well as the definition of open range are the two aspects that most concern ASI, since the provisions could inhibit a sheepherder’s ability to operate.
“Producers need herders to take care of the sheep but also, if they are on federal grazing, they need herders to go out on federal permits,” Orwick noted.
The next issue Orwick touched on was the conflict surrounding domestic and Bighorn sheep.
“If the government takes away grazing because of wildfire or drought, they have to provide an alternative grazing allotment to the producer,” Orwick stated. “We are asking that they do the same thing with Bighorn sheep.”
ASI continues to put pressure on legislatures and Congress to stand up for the sheep industry.
“We are going to have to hold their feet to the fire,” he said.
Mandatory price reporting for livestock was the next issue that Orwick brought up.
“We had a situation two years ago where, because of the government shutdown, all of the lamb companies were reporting the prices like they do or every week, but there was not a federal employee who was allowed to actually publish them,” he explained.
Nearly three weeks lapsed while markets operated on reports from the beginning of the government shutdown.
“We need to keep the pressure on Congress to pass mandatory price reporting,” he stated.
Next, Orwick mentioned that the lamb insurance product is once again available for purchase.
He explained, “It’s been totally revamped. The models and data going in has all been updated, and that insurance product was available again for sale the first of May.”
“Beyond that, we are looking forward to a couple of the new programs that we are launching,” Orwick continued.
At the end of the summer, ASI will be launching an announcement asking for entities, universities and other organizations to tackle issues concerning the sheep industry.
“The budget is going to go to the Board in the next week, and we are going to ask our Board of Directors to vote electronically,” he stated.
Researchers will be funded for projects that help sheep farms and ranches become more profitable and sustainable going into the future.
Orwick remarked, “We’re proud to have this opportunity.”