|Active Summer on the Legislative Front
(July 1, 2008) This has been an active summer so far on both a legislative and industry level, and I have a host of issues to share with you that are currently on our radar.
On the legislative front, the horse industry is again a topic of discussion. As we in the sheep industry are aware, and have followed very closely in the past, the horse industry fell under attack from animal rights groups and some supporters in its own industry, both contending that horses are not livestock, but rather pets. This argument, unfortunately, could well ban horse slaughter, creating a far-reaching and frightening precedent for the entire livestock industry.
However, recent legislation has brought this issue again to light, which many people aren’t aware of. The Farm Bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars in business tax deductions for the racehorse industry, and agriculture emergency immigration reform legislation attempted in the U.S. Senate had language to extend H-2A worker program benefits to horse operations, much like the program that the U.S. sheep industry already has.
So, with these recent legislative activities, it seems the horse industry is confused as to whether they are raising livestock or pets, on one hand, banning horses from livestock slaughter, yet on the other hand, wanting the tax breaks and immigration provisions reserved for the livestock industry. Sheep producers use thousands and thousands of horses to work stock and risk losing any value of the animal, in particular the large number of horses that turn out to be poor for use in working livestock. Let’s hope common sense can prevail, and I encourage you to let your congressional delegation know that tax and immigration benefits are for the food and fiber industry, not pets.
On the sheep industry front, our own H-2A program was recently under fire in the Wyoming press, with the article alleging that our foreign shearers are working in the United States illegally.
That is simply not the case, and I would like to be the first of many who will state that it is totally inaccurate.
Our H-2A program has specific programs that deal with the legal employment and use of foreign sheep shearers, and this program is important because they are part of our workforce that is so needed to get our wool harvested each year. While we do have a large and appreciated number of domestic sheep shearers, you wouldn’t find any argument that we would be in trouble without foreign shearers, as we just don’t have enough U.S. crews to get the job done and ahead of lambing.
While I understand that the H-2A programs require quite a bit of paperwork and stringent observances of regulations, our U.S. sheep industry should be proud of our strict adherence to the programs; our foreign sheep herders, shearers and other workforce are legal. In fact, few, if any, other agriculture industries can match the record of the sheep industry.
Our industry, and the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), invests a large amount of resources every year to address the regulatory standards in our H-2A program in order to do things legally, and it’s unfortunate that some in the media would mischaracterize us, rather than recognize the efforts we go through to do things by the book, resulting in a record to be proud of.
In other sheep industry news, as we have proven in prior years, ASI’s Legislative Action Council and the state leaders annual spring trip to Washington, D.C., yields results in federal actions.
Notably, I am pleased to say that our request for a lamb meat purchase program has once again been accepted. This purchase program, announced in May, allows for $2 million in lamb meat purchase availability, and ASI worked for the acceptance of this program to help strengthen the lamb business in view of this year’s record feed and fuel costs.
Secondly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided the final rule implementing the livestock mandatory reporting, or mandatory price reporting. This is long overdue after a two-and-a-half year absence, and it will be implemented in mid-July and will restore full price transparency in the lamb and lamb-meat business.
With this rule, the lamb-importing companies and those few domestic companies that were not voluntarily reporting the past two years will now be required to post purchases and sales. This will restore the fairness in the industry, as those domestic companies that continued to voluntarily comply, have stood the cost and labor of providing daily and weekly reports, and it’s more than equitable that importing lamb companies need to do the same.
We in the industry would like to thank the domestic companies that did continue to report, as they provided not only the benefit of market information but also the price data required for the Livestock Risk Protection-Lamb insurance product. If these upstanding companies had stopped reporting, we wouldn’t have had insurance coverage for the nearly 700,000 lambs insured since the beginning of the program.
I would also like to add that I am proud of the numerous producer leaders that continued to voice questions and concerns over the USDA’s proposal to allow live sheep and meat shipments from a region of Argentina. This topic was raised with nearly every USDA official during the May trip as well as with a number of members of the U.S. Congress.
Legislatively, we all know by now that we have a new Farm Bill, that has been passed and 100-percent implemented. I would just like to take a moment to thank our national and state association leaders who testified at Congressional hearings and contacted their state representatives and senators to get a Farm Bill passed with expanded provisions in the sheep industry.
In addition, we are working to make sure that our industry continues into the future with new generations of active leaders. In June, we had the first-ever telephone conference of the new ASI Youth Taskforce, which was established at the 2008 convention. The taskforce is comprised of numerous adult and youth producer leaders, and I look forward to hearing their plans to involve young people in the commercial sheep industry!