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ASI Annual Convention Wrap Up

DENVER – The first hour of the Lamb Council meeting at the 2024 American Sheep Industry Association Annual Convention Jan. 10-13 in Denver drew a larger than average crowd as representatives from Watts and Associates conducted the final listening session on creating a new federal risk management program for the sheep industry.

As was the case with previous listening sessions, some producers arrived expecting to hear the details of a product that will essentially replace the previous LRP-Lamb program. But a replacement program doesn’t currently exist. The sessions were designed to give producers a voice in developing a program that might be developed down the road.

“This is just a feasibility study,” said Mark Boyd of Watts and Associates, which conducted three listening sessions in-person and one online. “We’ll submit a report to the (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) Risk Management Agency in the next month.”

Boyd said the listening sessions looked to determine what insurance products would be most beneficial to the American sheep industry, including the possibility of covering such things as mortality, yield, price, revenue, etc.

The main deficiency of the previous lamb insurance program was the lack of price reporting due to consolidation within the industry. That problem still exists more than two years after LRP-Lamb went away for good, and the issue will have to be addressed in some form if a new insurance product is to be made available in the future. The decision on whether or not to move forward will soon be in the hands of RMA.

The opening session of the convention hosted a farm bill panel which featured senior staff from the Agriculture Committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Justin Benavidez with Chairman G.T. Thompson’s staff and Trey Forsyth with Ranking Member John Boozman’s team provided a comprehensive overview of the upcoming Farm Bill with respect to funding and the current legislative calendar, as well touching on key priorities important to the sheep and livestock industry.

In other news from the convention, ASI President Brad Boner of Wyoming and ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick addressed the ongoing issue of lamb imports – an issue Orwick said has plagued the American sheep industry since the loss of the National Wool Act in the 1990s that led to a dramatic decrease in the American flock. ASI investigated all aspects of filing a trade case against imports from Australia and New Zealand, but legal experts advised that even a victory would provide minimal relief when factoring in estimated legal costs of more than $1 million.

“Two things I think we need to do, not be shy about telling them we have a lawyer on retainer and we’re going to continue to watch this like a hawk,” Boner said. “And continue to make sure that if they ever stub their toe and give us a window, we’ll be ready.”

On the wool side, the ASI Board of Directors heard from a panel of innovators, including David Fisher of Texas, John Helle of Montana and Bob Padula of Minnesota. Fisher and Helle discussed the challenges with creating their own lines of wool textile products, while Padula walked producers through the process of establishing a partnership with WeatherWool.

Isak Statt from BKB provided a comprehensive Global Wool update at the Wool Roundtable. Additionally, innovators Albert Wilde of Wilde Valley Farms (specializing in wool fertilizer pellets) and Marie Hoff of Full Circle Wool (introducing wool sponges) shared exciting new product ideas. The event also featured a presentation from Jake Vuillemin of USDA’s Farm Service Agency about the available wool LDP/MAL program that has been used by many growers during the last three years. Mike Conover of Fibershed and Linda Poole with the National Center for Appropriate Technology discussed the Climate Beneficial Fiber Partnership that received a $30 million USDA grant in 2023. Other topics included carbon credits and an overview of the domestic textile industry.

Three new representatives were elected to the ASI Executive Board during the Saturday morning regional caucuses at the convention. Laurie Hubbard (Region I), Anne Crider (Region 3) and Tammy Fisher (Region V) were not eligible for reelection after serving two terms on the executive board. Those open spots were filled by Kevin Melvin of New Jersey, Larry Hopkins of Indiana and Rodney Kott of Texas, respectively. John Noh of Idaho was reelected in Region VII, as were each of ASI’s officer team: Boner as president, Ben Lehfeldt of Montana as vice president and Joe Pozzi of California.

The 2024 ASI Annual Convention offered two industry tours that gave participants the opportunity to see lamb harvesting plants and feedlots up close. The first included stops at the Superior Farms plant in Denver and Harper Feeders in Eaton. Participants on that tour also learned how each facility has used ASI’s Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan to prepare for a possible disease outbreak. The second tour headed to Brush, Colo., to see the industry’s newest lamb plant owned by Colorado Lamb Processors. After a tour of the facility, participants headed to Spence Rule’s nearby feedlot, where they were treated to an outstanding lamb lunch.

Speaking of Superior Farms, convention attendees got an update on a city referendum headed for the 2024 fall ballot that would ban meat processing facilities within the Denver city limits. The Superior Farms facility is the only business that would be affected if the referendum passes.

“They’re coming after the protein industry,” said Superior Farms CEO Rick Stott. “We’re going to take them on, and we’re going to beat them.”

ASI’s board of directors voted to commit significant financial support to those efforts, but the company will need additional dollars to mount an effective campaign between now and November. Producers interested in supporting those efforts should visit StoptheBanProtectJobs.com to learn more.

Look for additional coverage of the ASI Annual Convention in the February issue of the Sheep Industry News. And mark your calendars now to attend the next ASI Annual Convention on Jan. 15-18, 2025, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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