Stronger markets bring positive attitude to sheep convention


DENVER, Colo. — The year began with stronger markets for lamb and wool, which helped provide a positive attitude to industry participants at the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) National Lamb Feeders Association Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 20-23.

Cull-ewe prices are the highest seen in years, wool markets are expected to be active, pelt prices are up this winter and lamb meat export numbers are strikingly higher indicating additional interest being shown around the world for U.S. lamb products.

In an effort to quantify the nontraditional lamb market in the U.S., it became apparent that sheep inventory numbers may be larger than previously reported by the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS).

In 2008, as many as 1.2 million head of sheep were channeled outside the traditional pipeline and into ethnic markets or were sold direct to consumers off the farm. Therefore, a portion of American lambs do not show up in the federally inspected slaughter numbers and it is also likely that many ewe flocks are not accounted for in national reports.

The actual number of lambs processed in this country could be as high as 3.5 million.

Glen Fisher, ASI president, said the report showed the U.S. has more sheep than estimated in recent years. Knowing more about how many lambs are being sold in the nontraditional market and something about where they are going provides opportunities to the trade and good information to the American Lamb Board as they design promotion and merchandizing programs.

Chris Wilcox, wool and livestock economist from Australia, stressed that wool prices are inventory driven but that demand is having an effect as well.

Some of the drivers of falling wool production include climatic conditions, lower wool-income returns compared with other enterprises, a shift to sheep for meat production, predators and pessimism about wool.

Wilcox was encouraging, however, for the 2010 wool market. He expects that there will be better consumer demand for natural fibers in 2010 and that the tight supply of apparel wool — with little prospect to increase the supply — will have an effect.

A 2010 budget amendment approved by the board of directors will facilitate one of the most significant advancements in wool product development in the United States in years. ASI investigated introducing equipment in the United States to manufacture washable/shrink proof wool products and may have the opportunity to make this happen this year.

Brandon Willis, USDA Farm Service Agency deputy administrator, communicated the details of the new disaster assistance program which compensates livestock producers for losses related to adverse weather. Millions of dollars in payments were made to sheep producers from Texas to North Dakota due to blizzards and spring storms that killed sheep in 2008 and 2009.

ASI strongly supported the creation of these programs in the last farm bill.


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