|Sheep Take Over Capitol Hill
(June 1, 2010) The first week of May saw the largest yet sheep producer delegation visit to Capitol Hill to represent the interests of the sheep industry. Seventy-three participants from 25 states joined the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) in Washington, D.C., to create a solid front to talk industry issues and successes with their state congressional leaders and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials.
I think that the USDA lineup was one of the best we have ever had, both in terms of the officials that met with us as well as the discussions had.
There was a lot of discussion regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would involve trade with Australia and New Zealand. It was pointed out that, similar to the dairy industry concerns, there should be a way to address surges of imported product. Lamb and wool in the United States are already free-traded, so there should be no reason for New Zealand to try to negotiate anything further. The suspicion is New Zealand will talk lamb and wool in case they fail to shrink the substantial restrictions on exports of dairy and beef to the United States.
This was the second meeting I have had this spring with USDA on the need to implement the new Sheep Improvement Center. Undersecretary Edward Avalos relayed that the department would have the rules to operate the center written and published by the end of the year. So, we will at least be nominating a board of directors for the center, or maybe even have one seated, in 2010.
The USDA meetings also gave us a chance to thank officials, such as Avalos, for including lamb in the multi-commodity purchase program. The allotted $2 million of lamb purchases in the program should help producers continue to enjoy today’s lamb prices by giving lamb companies another outlet for product by selling to USDA. Due to the economic crisis, there is much greater need for food donations around America as you can imagine.
Increasing the sheep inventory and the work of the Re-build the U.S. Sheep Inventory Committee were also frequent topics of discussion. Producer leaders encouraged USDA to help as it can when the committee releases its formal plans for inventory increase. They also encouraged their congressional leaders to consider including pieces of the plan where possible in the upcoming Farm Bill (see article below for more information).
Speaking of Farm Bill, ASI Past President Cindy Siddoway (Idaho) testified on the bill at a House Ag Committee on May 1 in her home state. There was a lot of discussion about the sheep industry at this meeting ranging from the sheep center to bighorn appropriations and the wool LDP program.
Though it is early in the Farm Bill process, it is very important for ASI and the state associations to participate from start to finish. We certainly appreciate Cindy’s early help in getting ASI’s message to Congress.
On a market note, there is some feeling out there that at this point in the wool market we may be looking at the best prices since 1988. Let’s hope that is the reality for our growers this year!